First Nations policing association says forces struggle while millions in federal funding go unspent

The president of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association says it is mind-boggling Ottawa is letting millions of dollars targeted for this area go unspent when First Nations police forces are struggling to provide services.

“We represent 36 stand-alone police services in Canada and we’ve been chronically underfunded for many, many years since the program started,” Jerry Swamp told Nation to Nation. “If there is an excess of funding that hasn’t been spent on the CTA (community tripartite agreement) side, how come they couldn’t roll that over to the stand-alone police services?”

An auditor general’s report released this week finds $13 million targeted by Public Safety Canada for the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program went unspent last year and this could balloon to $45 million by the end of this fiscal year.

Part of the problem is because of chronic staffing shortages the RCMP has been unable to hire officers it is allotted funding for under the community tripartite agreement.

Since 2018, the national police force has been eligible for funding to hire 467 officers under the agreement but it has only hired 406 – a shortfall of 61 officers.

First Nations housing issues 

Canada’s Auditor General Karen Hogan says it is almost certain the federal government will not meet its commitment to close the First Nations housing gap by 2030.

“In my view, it is highly unlikely that they are going to meet that commitment,” Karen Hogan told Nation to Nation host Fraser Needham. “One of our findings is that the government didn’t put in place a plan to figure out how much this would cost.

“The Assembly of First Nations, in 2021, estimated it would be $44 billion to close the gap by 2030 and when there is no plan on how you are going to fund that – it’s a large sum of money – how are you going to find that and how are you going to support communities in order to be ready to deliver on some of the construction projects that are needed? In my view, it’s unlikely that gap will be closed.”

The auditor general said Ottawa has only completed 20 per cent of the work needed to close the gap after spending a little under $4 billion.

For its part, the AFN now estimates it would take about $135 billion to close the gap.

Unmarked graves 

An official working with the International Commission on Missing Persons said she understands concerns the organization is not Indigenous-led but this does not take away from the work the organization can do in assisting communities in their search for unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools.

“The criticisms and concerns that come from the three organizations you are talking about are of course legitimate in their own right but at the same time I don’t believe we have had an opportunity to properly address the concerns,” Sheila North said.

“We did welcome the amended statements and amendments to the work plan that was initially signed under the technical agreement between CIRNAC (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada) and ICMP but we have not in a constructive way been able to properly talk about the concerns and that hindered the work we’ve been able to do.”

Last year, Netherlands-based ICMP signed a $2 million contract with the federal government to assist First Nations communities in ongoing searches for unmarked graves.

However, the organization faced immediate criticism for not being Indigenous-led and being hired without consultation from First Nations by the National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools, Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Burials at Residential Schools Kimberley Murray.

North, a former candidate for national chief for the Assembly of First Nations, is working with ICMP.

She said she hopes ICMP can sit down with these organizations to address their concerns in the near future.

On Thursday in Ottawa, ICMP, the NDP, Pimicikamak Cree Nation and the Dene Nation held a press conference to address concerns looming federal budget cuts will affect searches for unmarked graves.

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