A federal program that funded police officers for Thunder Bay and other police services has dried up — something that will have an especially hard impact on the Nishnawbe Aski Police.
The end of the government's Police Officers Recruitment Fund means Constable Darin McClendon may have to part ways from his canine partner Pax. The pair has been working together for three years.
"It was very frustrating [because] we're doing really good work and … to find out that the funding was being taken away was pretty disheartening," McClendon said.
"Taking it away would be basically taking a step backwards, almost doing a disservice to what we've accomplished so far in the last three years."
Pax sniffs out drugs in Thunder Bay and communities across northwestern Ontario.
"Not having the dog means that people don't really have to worry about a dog coming in and finding their drugs," McClendon continued. "It would have a huge impact, I think."
Hoping to keep program going
The recruitment fund began in 2008 and was intended to be a five-year program.
The fact the program will end next year has the Nishnawbe Aski Police scrambling.
"NAPS gets 11 positions from this fund … and that's quite a bit," said Police Chief Claude Chum.
He said he's still hoping to somehow keep the program going.
"We're pushing it as NAPS police service, our police service board is pushing it and we're also going to get the new elected NAN executive … [to] help with our lobbying … we're going to fight it as far as we can," Chum said.
The Nishnawbe Aski Police Service receives $1.1 million from the program: $100,000 per officer.
If Pax and McClendon are separated, the four-year-old dog will likely go to work in southern Ontario, while McClendon will head up north to work as an officer.
"We realize that our chief is doing all that he can to try and secure funding," McClendon said. "All we can do is wait."
The cancellation of the fund will also impact Thunder Bay police, as the force has two officers hired through the Police Officers Recruitment Fund.
The Treaty Three police service could also lose seven officers with the program’s cancellation. The service’s acting police chief, Terry Armstrong, said the force may have to pull their officers out of the Wabaseemoong First Nation, and hand policing of that community over to the OPP.