Lack of funds for policing turning Indigenous communities into organized crime hubs, Quebec hearing told

Criminal groups are moving into Indigenous communities because of a vacuum in policing services, a Quebec government inquiry heard Thursday.

Criminal groups moving into Indigenous communities due to vacuum in policing services, former officer says

"It can almost be lawless," Lloyd Alcon, a former First Nations police officer, told the Viens Commission on Thursday. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Criminal groups are moving into Indigenous communities because of a vacuum in policing services, a Quebec government inquiry heard Thursday. 

"It can almost be lawless," Lloyd Alcon, a former First Nations police officer, told the Viens Commission, which is examining ways to improve access to public services for Indigenous people in the province.

"They know that [the Sûreté du Québec] or other agencies can't come into our community, so our communities turn into a hub for organized crime," said Alcon, who worked in the Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation in eastern Quebec. 

Alcon, along with Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, and chiefs of First Nations police forces were discussing the lack of funding for police services in their communities.

They described reaching a crucial point in their relationship with government.

Aging vehicles, equipment pose problem

The federal and provincial governments have more than 20 funding agreements to operate First Nations policing in the province. But those agreements expire on March 31st.

The leaders who spoke at the commission say, after months of negotiations to reach a new agreement, they've only received a "take it or leave it" offer for renewed funding. They said that is not a true negotiation process.

"We want to cut those ties of having to keep relying on everybody and actually build," said Alcon. "But we don't even have the resources to be basic."

Alcon listed the disadvantages Indigenous officers have to deal with.

Chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador Ghislain Picard discussed lack of funding for police services at the Viens Commission. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

They work with old or aging vehicles and equipment. Bullet-proof vests are no longer effective because of their age.

Alcon said police forces are often understaffed because they don't have the funds to recruit, or entice trained officers to remain in the communities.

In small communities, where officers know most of the residents, Alcon said they have to serve as de facto social workers and suicide councillors as well.

'A situation that no other police institution finds itself in'

For Picard, the discrepancy in funding for Indigenous and non-Indigenous police forces amounts to discrimination.

"It's totally, totally unfair that we be put in a situation that no other police institution finds itself in — be it the SQ, the RCMP across the country, or municipal police" said Picard. "The security of our peoples is compromised, and that's totally unacceptable."

Picard told retired Quebec Superior Court justice Jacques Viens that policing in Indigenous communities has to be treated as an essential service the way it is in non-Indigenous communities.

Alcon described how the lack of funding and support he received during his 15-year career wore him down, prompting him to leave the profession.

"I wasn't seeing any change within the governments, I wasn't seeing any change that we were getting from our own government," said Alcon, 39. "It creates this cognitive dissonance between us, and you start questioning things."

Alcon, who's now a band councillor, made the jump to politics a few years later to try to help the situation from the other side.

"I figured this is the voice where I need to be, this is the platform where I need to be," said Alcon.