Reaction is coming out swiftly to the federal government’s plan to make First Nations policing essential across the country.
Saskatchewan has just one First Nation-administered police service: File Hills First Nations Police in Balcarres. The service has been in operation for about 20 years, serving five different First Nation communities in Treaty Four Tribal Territory.
Chief of Police Paul Avanthay had few words when asked about his reaction to the federal government’s plan to deem First Nations policing essential. “Long overdue,” he said.
Avanthay, a retired RCMP member, said his force offers the same service that any other rural policing service in the province. He added when it comes to establishing a police force on First Nations, there’s one important component:
“A lot of them feel that they just don’t have that presence when they’re policed from outside, by any agency whether it’s RCMP or whoever provides their policing service. They have to be in the community and have that presence,” he said.
Those sentiments were echoed by Lennard Busch with the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association. He said his organization is supportive of the communities and tribal councils looking to start their own services.
While First Nations have been eligible to create police detachments since 1991, Bush said one of the major roadblocks to doing so is funding.
“The funding for First Nations police services has been an area of contention since the start of the First Nation Policing Program in 1991,” he said. “There were issues with the amount of funding but also how it was allocated. Funding agreements, for a long time, were one, two, maybe five years if you were lucky.
“For a long time, we were considered an enhancement for mainstream policing and that’s kind of where the call for essential service legislation drives from.”
Another roadblock has to do with recruiting and retention. Busch said smaller communities in the past haven’t had the resources to keep officers in the service. “We do know that small police services are at higher risk of being disbanded or dissolved,” Busch said.
“[Since 1991] almost a third of the self-administered police services have been disbanded for that reason.”
In the case of the federal legislation soon to be introduced, the government is holding consultations with various communities to determine the next steps and how a police service would work on their lands.
Earlier this week, Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was in James Smith Cree Nation and Prince Albert to talk more about those plans. He, along with Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte and Provincial Public Safety Minister Christine Tell signed a Letter of Intent, paving the way for the PAGC to create a team that will engage with its communities on policing and public safety.