Current Problems

Justice (25-42)

Rising violence, funding shortfalls: Indigenous police say Ottawa has left them teetering on the edge

June 17, 2024

Their policing resources are stretched thin and if something doesn’t change Indigenous forces in Ontario could disband. 

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Six Nations Police Service community service officer Cody Johnson in Ohsweken on May 29, 2024. “Deep down in everyone’s heart, we want to make sure our community is safe,” Johnson says. Nick Iwanyshyn

The Toronto Star: SIX NATIONS OF THE GRAND RIVER, Ont.—It took Cody Johnson seven tries to be accepted into the Six Nations Police Service.

Johnson always wanted to be a police officer growing up on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, located eight kilometres outside of Brantford, Ont.

But it wasn’t until his brother died by suicide in 2012 that he knew being a police officer — and making a difference — was a priority for him.

“Deep down in everyone’s heart, we want to make sure our community is safe and we want to help protect the ones who can’t protect themselves in that sense,” he said. 

But making a difference is not easy. The Six Nations reserve stretches across more than 180 square kilometres, and when resources are stretched thin it becomes hard to get to calls on time, Johnson said. 

Since Johnson first joined the force three years ago, the issue of drugs and alcohol has gotten worse. The pressure on officers and their families takes a toll. Today, when he is called in during the night to back up fellow officers, Johnson said his wife worries. 

“She knew the magnitude of the type of calls I would be dealing with, so she would sleep but she wouldn’t sleep at the night calls,” he said. 

The Six Nations Police Service is one of the nine Indigenous police forces serving 86 First Nations communities in Ontario. Community leaders say funding shortfalls, outdated equipment and staffing shortages are hampering Indigenous police forces. In response, the police chiefs of those forces have filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal arguing the federal government has engaged in discriminatory and chronic underfunding. Indigenous leaders say that if new fair funding agreements are not made soon, many communities could lose police service.

After 32 years with the Six Nations Police Service, chief of police Darren Montour understands the demands on a First Nations police officer in his home community, but he will be the first to admit the situation officers are facing today is more intense. 

“What the crime and drug guys are going through now — being burnt out, being here constantly, investigating one serious incident after another — I’ve been there, I know how they feel,” he said.

The Six Nations Police Service has been around since 1985, providing services to a First Nation that is the most populous in Canada with almost 30,000 registered band members and nearly 13,000 living on reserve. 

Since 1991, Public Safety Canada has administered and funded Indigenous police forces through the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program, which provides policing to 385 of the 680 First Nations and Inuit communities.

But the program has long been criticized and many advocates say it has been set up for failure. In March, the Auditor General of Canada found Public Safety Canada did not allocate funds equitably and lacked “consistent engagement and partnership with communities.” Public Safety Canada did not provide a comment for this story. 

Montour, who is also president of the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario (IPCO), said issues such as lack of funding and manpower have led to more than 20 Indigenous police forces disbanding in the past 30 years. Salary and pension inequity is causing some forces to lose people to local municipalities.

These issues led the police chiefs to file a complaint with the human rights tribunal seeking more than $1.2 billion from Ottawa for racial discrimination and failure to negotiate for equitable funding. 

After a year marked by no progress, the IPCO refiled its complaint in April, arguing that without new funding agreements, several police services may be forced to disband, leaving dozens of Indigenous communities and thousands of people without a local police service.

Six Nations was able to sign a new funding agreement last year, and is not at risk of disbanding.


One of the biggest issues impacting First Nations communities, including Six Nations, is the opioid crisis. The use of fentanyl has led to an increase in deaths, organized crime, drug-induced psychosis and mental health incidents, said the force’s crisis co-ordinator Natachia Slezsak.

Since 2020, Six Nations has seen mental health problems, including more violent incidents linked to mental health, increase by 63 per cent. While there are societal and systemic reasons for some of the increase, drug use is the most likely reason for many, Slezsak said.

Two weeks ago, the force was dealing with an early morning drive-by shooting and drug heist as well as an ongoing homicide investigation. But the police force has more than 12 per cent of its 41 officers on leave — three from post-traumatic stress disorder and two from injury. 

The problems spurred by the opioid crisis mean active patrol officers are often needed for major crime investigations, which puts a further drain on resources. This means Six Nations has had to turn to the Ontario Provincial Police for help, an imperfect solution because of the long-standing negative attitudes the local community feels towards the provincial force. To fix the staffing issues, police chief Montour says he needs 60 officers. 


Living and working in a small community where you grew up creates more “mental weight” for officers who have to consider additional dynamics during everyday interactions with friends and family, said crisis co-ordinator Slezsak.

“You could be arresting your brother, your cousin or having an interaction with a very close family member and you need to be able to stay very professional,” she said.

A major stress on Indigenous police officers stems from what Erin Hill, the police service’s social navigator, calls the broken relationship between the police service and community members and leaders, caused by the long colonial history between policing and Indigenous people.

Western and settler police forces, such as the RCMP, were involved with the residential school system and Sixties Scoop that saw children taken from their homes. They also represented Canada in standoffs like the Oka Crisis  in 1990 and the Ipperwash Crisis in 1995. 

Indigenous officers feel “they’re the ones who are more like an arm of the government that took everything,” Hill said.

A mental health review of Indigenous police services in Ontario conducted by the IPCO in 2021 showed the forces respond to more calls than non-Indigenous forces, including more critical calls, but funding deficits mean they do not have the people or tools to provide the resources to respond to these incidents and support their officers.

“Other police services who are not First Nations are getting adequate funding not only for mental health but to get positions for individuals to help create change and make sure their officers are well,” Slezsak said.

Today, sitting at his desk at the Six Nations police station, Montour is worried about the ongoing issues impacting his force. Although they’re understaffed, the force is running out of space in their police station. Ongoing mental health and drug crises with little supports is leading to stress and fatigue.

Despite the challenges, Montour still loves what he does after over 30 years.

“We’re still striving to be the best we can for the community,” he said. “It’s challenging at times, yes, but other times, it’s very rewarding to be able to help people in your own community.”

Joy SpearChief-Morris is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics and Indigenous issues for the Star. Reach her via email: