By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
OTTAWA – Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney is refusing to meet with Ontario First Nation police services plagued by deteriorating police detachments that have led to multiple prisoner deaths and in the first week of April tried to ram through a new funding agreement with the police services – but with a catch, they say.
Within the paperwork was a clause removing, if signed, federal responsibility of the costs to improve police facilities on-reserve.
Public Safety then gave the police services until April 30 to sign – or face not making payroll – according to several members of the Nishnawbe-Aski and Anishinabek police services who held a media conference in Ottawa Wednesday.
Both NAPS and APS refused to sign accusing Blaney of putting them over the barrel and said the agreement didn’t meet their needs and didn’t have their input.
But they didn’t stop there.
They also accused Blaney’s office of having advance knowledge of a report by the Auditor General of Canada examining the state of the federal First Nations Policing Policy that began in 1991, which NAPS and APS fall under.
In that report, released Tuesday, the auditor general’s office found many facilities in poor condition and some in disrepair.
“We have lost a number of community members in very tragic incidents because of the deplorable state of conditions that exist in many of our detachments,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “What adds insult to injury is the government’s position over the last few months pressuring communities … to sign the agreements that do not even come close to meeting the needs of our communities, knowing the content, the recommendations, the results of the auditor general’s report.”
Blaney’s office was presented with each accusation made by the police services.
“The minister meets regularly with stakeholders and he is committed to continue to do so,” said a spokesperson. “We will continue to work with partners to finalize long term, multi-year agreements to support dedicated, responsive and professional policing services in First Nation and Inuit communities through this long term, stable funding.”
Fiddler said they are making ends meet “week by week, month by month.”
Both police services were able to obtain “bridge” funding from the Ontario government. They said two other First Nation police services in Ontario, Rama and Akwesasne Mohawk police, also refused to sign.
Auditors visited six NAPS communities last June in northern Ontario and found the buildings “were crowded, contained mould, and were in a state of disrepair.”
The report found Public Safety officials were the ones conducting buildings assessments, not qualified building inspectors.
“Without inspection reports by qualified professionals on all facilities, (Public Safety) does not have assurance that these facilities meet the applicable standards,” the report said.
Public Safety agreed to “consider and develop mutually acceptable mechanisms that will provide reasonable assurances” policing facilities meet building codes.
Lena Anderson died in a NAPS police cruiser on Feb. 1 2013.
Anderson killed herself after she was put in the car because there was no heat in the Kasabonika Lake detachment where she was detained. It’s one of 34 remote communities policed by NAPS.
In 2006, Ricardo Wesley and Jamie Goodwin burned to death in a makeshift jail cell on Kashechewan First Nation, also a NAPS community. A 2010 inquest into their deaths recommended that Canada and Ontario spend the money necessary to bring all police facilities in northern parts of the province up to standards of other police services.
The Anderson death pushed NAPS to issue a call for help by writing Blaney, but he hasn’t responded to the letter said NAPS and APS lawyer Julian Falconer.
“(Blaney) will not meet and there have been letters after letters for months,” said Falconer, adding his clients are in a “stand-off” with the federal government because of the feds’ “underhanded” tactics.
The way funding works for the policing policy is the federal government covers 52 per cent of funding and the provincial government, at least in Ontario, covers the rest.
But the funding can end when the contract ends – it’s not like other police services, such as the Ontario Provincial Police, that have their funding legislated and are classified as an essential service.
“There is a need for legislation,” said Doug Chevrier, chairperson of the APS governing authority, “to deem us as an essential service. With the current agreement it lacks (adequate) funding and it lacks consultation and input from the First Nations.”
The auditor general’s report found of the nine agreements they examined seven contained to documents to prove the feds had sought input from the First Nation, despite that being a requirement in the policing policy.
Both NAPS and APS said they are losing officers to larger forces because they can’t pay them the same amount of money and too often they’re responding to serious calls alone putting them at risk of injury or death.