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Canada must provide equitable funding for policing on reserve, First Nation lawsuit says

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An Ojibway First Nation in northern Ontario filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that the chronic inequitable funding of their police services has created a public safety crisis in the community.

“Most of the time it happens that our officers couldn’t make an arrest because they didn’t have support in the community. In fact, there are times when criminals were basically allowed to commit crimes and walk away,” Wilfred King, Kiashke boss. Zaaging Anishinaabek (KZA) (also known as Gull Bay First Nation), he said during a press conference Monday morning in Ottawa.

“It’s a very serious situation,” King added.

The statement of claim, filed Monday afternoon in Federal Court, alleges that “First Nations police services have been systematically and chronically underfunded, endangering First Nations.” [officer and community] safety.”

The federal government has 30 days to file a defense statement with the Federal Court.

It’s the latest move adding pressure on Ottawa to ensure equitable funding and adequate policing in indigenous communities across the country, something the federal government says it is working towards.

There is often no police protection in KZA

There are currently only two active police officers in Kiashke Zaaging, King said, which means there are often times when there is no police protection.

Officers often work alone and sometimes have to request backup support from Ontario Provincial Police detachments, which don’t always respond to those calls, he said.

“In a recent incident, we had a violent offender in the community and the police didn’t respond because they couldn’t get the necessary backup,” King said, adding that he is concerned for his safety.

Chantelle Bryson, legal counsel for Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (Gull Bay First Nation), speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, as King looks on, about filing a legal action against Canada for the unequal funding of the First Nation police services. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Chantelle Bryson, a lawyer representing the First Nation, said the officers are working without adequate resources, including access to cell or satellite phones, and without police station or support staff, and are paid less than others. officers in Ontario.

“We have officers in the KZA who are homeless. We have an officer who was driving three hours each way from Thunder Bay and back, and another officer who is sleeping on a friend’s couch,” Bryson said.

He said the federal government continues to invest its money elsewhere, instead of supporting First Nations self-determination and responding to recommendations set forth by national investigations, such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report released in 2019.

“KZA will not wait to become a lawless enclave,” he said.

Funding for First Nations police is a key issue

Unlike non-indigenous communities across Canada where police function as an essential service, under the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP), funding agreements are negotiated between communities, Public Safety Canada and the province.

exist currently 35 First Nations police services and one Inuit police service in Canadawith the majority located in Ontario and Quebec.

Lennard Busch, executive director of the First Nations Police Chiefs Association, said the legal challenge launched by the KZA speaks to growing frustration over how First Nations police services are funded and managed.

“We’ve certainly been pushing for quite some time to eliminate some of the disparity between First Nations self-managing police services and conventional police,” he told CBC News.

Funding has been a key problem, causing conditions that put both communities and police officers at risk, Busch said, but there is a push to declare the service essential and provide equitable funding.

In January 2022, the The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Canadian government was discriminating against the Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nationlocated 260 kilometers north of Quebec City, by chronically underfunding the Mashteuiatsh Police Service.

In the fall, Public Safety Canada released a report on the FNIPP detailing significant issues that were highlighted during public consultations, and Minister Marco Mendicino has consistently reaffirmed his commitment to introducing new legislation this year.

The department did not respond to questions from CBC News about the legislation or about KZA’s concerns before the deadline.

Busch said his organization, along with the Assembly of First Nations, has been supporting consultation and the development of legislation, and he is cautiously optimistic about it.

“A lot of things that we’ve heard before and then just died,” Busch said.

“Hopefully this will change a lot of things in terms of how we allocate resources to First Nations police services, how we support them, how we fund them and how we regulate them.”

But Wilfred King said he doesn’t know what’s in that long-promised legislation, and his First Nations police force needs sufficient resources and funding now.

“We can’t wait for that legislation,” he said.

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