Alberta announced Tuesday it plans to spend $6 million over two years to help Indigenous communities and municipalities study the issue of having their own community police forces.
“Alberta wants to improve public safety through new approaches to local policing,” said Mike Ellis, minister of public safety and emergency services.
“No one knows a community better than the people who live there.”
The government grants of $30,000 would help fund independent studies.
Ellis told a news conference that Alberta Public Safety and Emergency Services has received grant applications from 13 communities that are interested in local policing.
For most communities this would replace the RCMP.
Ellis said four First Nations and one Métis settlement have expressed interest in the grant so far. But he would not identify them by name under questioning from APTN News.
In July 2022, Alberta and the Siksika Nation in southern Alberta signed a memorandum of understanding to work towards establishing a self-administered First Nations police service.
Siksika, located about 100 km east of Calgary, had its own police service from 1992 to 2002.
The force was disbanded after a 10-year funding agreement with the federal and provincial governments wasn’t renewed.
Siksika did a study in 2021 with assistance from a $30,000 provincial government grant.
Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot confirmed his community had signed “a contribution agreement” with Alberta and Canada on March 31 to “work towards Siksika Nation Police Services.
“We see our Citizens’ safety as a top priority. We have far too many MMIW, drug related crimes, reduced life expectancy, and other negative statics that are directly correlated with the lack of police/public safety related services,” he said in an emailed statement.
Former United Conservative Party premier Jason Kenney established the “new fair deal panel” that studied, among other things, “ending the province’s relationship with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force,” according to a 2019 press release.
Ellis told reporters the provincial grants are not an indication that the province has abandoned the idea of a provincial police force.
Rather, Ellis said that as a former police officer he knows how important it is to be prepared for any situation.
“The federal government has signal checked on several different occasions…I don’t mean the RCMP, I am talking about Public Safety Canada (PSC)…has said that they may be looking at stepping away from contract policing,” he said.
PSC did not respond to a request for information about their plans for contract policing by deadline but a previous joint press release from the RCMP and PSC in 2020 said there are “systemic sustainability challenges impacting the whole of the RCMP.”
Ellis told APTN that conversations with Indigenous communities will continue.
“The conversations I have had with these communities have inspired them to apply and we are excited to work with them and empower them in true reconciliation.”