Nearby First Nations optimistic over funding boost for reserve policing

The federal government's injection of nearly $300 million into First Nations and Inuit police forces over the next five years is welcome news to at least two communities in the region.

Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne say money will help with recruitment, retention

Local First Nations groups say the increase in federal funding will help on reserve police forces recruit and retain officers and keep equipment up-to-date. (Troy Fleece/Canadian Press)

Two Indigenous communities in the region say they welcome the injection of nearly $300 million by the federal government into First Nations and Inuit police forces over the next five years.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the $291-million funding announcement Wednesday, just months before the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP) was set to expire in March.

The money will flow into more than 450 communities starting in the next fiscal year and be used for officer salaries, hiring new officers and purchasing equipment, such as bullet-proof vests, breath tests and vehicles. Two of those communities include the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation located near Maniwaki, Que., and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, southeast of Ottawa.

"We're happy to see that [the minister] finally realized that this is important," said Chief Jean Guy Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, who said he had lobbied for First Nations policing to be recognized as an essential service in need of stable funding.

More money needed for officers, chief says

The force has been active since 1985 and currently has six full-time officers who come from the community. It recently hired two more officers on a temporary basis after the force was struggling to police the community around the clock. The chief has been concerned for the safety of officers who often have to attend a crime scene at night or patrol Highway 105, which runs through the community, on their own due to a shortage of police staff.

Whiteduck said it's also important their officers' salaries are equivalent to those of other officers across Quebec.

"They require the same training, the same background, the same education to do policing. So, at least, we'll be able to meet those standards and hopefully retain our officers and ensure they're well equipped," he said.

'It's difficult for first nation constables to remain in those positions when the conditions in which they work in are not ideal, some of the equipment they work with is not ideal.' - Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of  Akwesasne

Currently, the force's budget is around $1 million a year, which he estimates is $300,000 to $500,000 short of what's needed.

The federal government provides 52 per cent of the funding for First Nations police forces, with provinces and territories paying the rest.

While it's not clear if the Quebec government will also increase its funding to match the federal government's increase, Whiteduck isn't worried.

"In the past, Quebec has not been a problem. Quebec has stepped up to the plate to pay their share," he said.

Quebec, Ontario government reviewing federal announcement

The Quebec government is analyzing the federal government's announcement, the Sécurité Publique du Québec wrote in an email to CBC News. It said discussions about the province's share of the funding will be taking place soon.

Meanwhile, in a statement to CBC News, Ontario's Community Safety and Correctional Services Ministry pointed out the province has provided more than its required 48-per-cent share last year to ensure First Nations police officers to ensure their wages matched those of Ontario Provincial Police officers.

The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne faces its own challenges, since it spans two provinces — Quebec and Ontario — and sits along the Canada-U.S. border. The force hopes to use additional funding to create a fully functioning marine unit, said Grand Chief Abram Benedict.

Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne says they hope to develop a fully functioning marine unit to patrol the St. Lawrence River. (CBC News)

He said the force doesn't currently have problems with officer recruitment or retention, but officers are working with equipment that "is not ideal."

The Mohawk Council's force is made up of 35 officers, 80 per cent of whom are Indigenous and mostly members from the Akwesasne community, which is important for the force's success, said Benedict.

Whiteduck echoed the importance of having a force on the reserve.

"People don't like the idea of the [Sûreté du Québec]  in most First Nations communities in Quebec. They prefer their own police force," he said. "They prefer to have their community policed by their own people."