Recruitment of Indigenous police officers a top priority, says Quebec government

The province intends to pay tuition for 24 Indigenous recruits every year, at Quebec's police academy in Nicolet, in an effort to boost the number of First Nations and Inuit officers working in the force.

Province announces $18.6M investment over five years to pay for schooling, specialized training

Akwesasne Mohawk police chief Shawn Dulude, right, welcomed the announcement made Friday in Quebec City by Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault and Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière. (Simon Clark/The Canadian Press)

Recruitment and retention of Indigenous police officers remain major obstacles facing First Nations and Inuit police forces — an ongoing challenge the Quebec government says it is now ready to tackle by offering more training and funding.

The province announced an $18.6-million investment on Friday to address some of the recommendations included in the 2019 Viens report, as well as in the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

One of the first measures that will be put in place is paying for the tuition of young Indigenous men and women who enrol at Quebec's national police academy in Nicolet, which amounts to around $30,000 per student. 

"We really want to make a big effort to get our young men and women interested in this profession," said Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault.

Right now, only 3.5 per cent of graduates at Nicolet are Indigenous, which represents 18 to 23 people per year.

"It's not a lot," said Shawn Dulude, the President of the Association of First Nations and Inuit Chiefs of Police of Quebec, who was present for the announcement.

"Policing in communities wasn't always seen as the best job, for obvious reasons," said Dulude, who is also Chief of Police with the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service. 

Having to work on a reserve and potentially having to respond to a call of domestic violence, when the suspect can be your cousin, is "part of the hardships officers have to deal with," he said.

While that close proximity can also be an advantage — by allowing officers to build relationships and trust within the community — it is also one of the reasons many officers choose to leave smaller forces in favour of larger organizations, like the Sûreté du Québec, he said.

Better working conditions and better pay are also motivation to make the switch, he said. Which is why Dulude is also looking forward to renegotiating the tripartite policing agreements that are currently in place, and that distribute funding to Quebec's 22 Indigenous police forces.

The agreement stipulates that Ottawa pays for 52 per cent of the cost, and Quebec the other 48 per cent — but the total of those government contributions is insufficient to compete with the salaries offered by other municipalities.

"Everyone knows about the dilemma," said Dulude. "We will be discussing it, and hopefully we can make Indigenous police forces more attractive."

More autonomy 

The funding will also be used to offer specialized training to officers within Indigenous police forces, to conduct criminal investigations, for example.

"We want the specialization [other forces] already have, instead of asking for another police force to come in and do it for us," said Dulude.

"We want them to be fully autonomous," said Guilbault.

But Dulude says Quebec's 22 Indigenous police forces can't always access training — because their teams are small.

"If the police force only has four, five or six employees to send someone off to training at L'École nationale de police, for two to three weeks for a specialized course, it's impossible."

Allowing Indigenous officers tools to conduct their own investigations was one of the calls to justice made by the MMIWG inquiry.

Former MMIWG commissioner Michele Audette says it's important that Indigenous police forces have specialized training. (Native Women's Association of Canada)

Former Commissioner Michele Audette says without that specialization, investigations are sometimes transfered from one police force to another.

And those delays can mean families of missing women never get answers.

"We have to have our own expertise — we have to make sure that the investigators will be well trained, and if it's someone from another commnuity but at least from the Nation or Indigenous, at least the cultural awareness is not an issue..."

There will also be customized training offered to Indigenous police forces, to respond to calls of sexual assault, conjugal violence and domestic violence.

An Indigenous liaison officer will also be added to the team at the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale (LSJML) to accompany victims of sexual assault.

Minister of Indigenous Relations Ian Lafrenière, a former Montreal police officer, said the announcement "was one of many" that will "we hope allow women and girl to feel safer in their communities."

Another $1.2 million will also be dedicated to preventing the sexual exploitation of minors.

With files from Cathy Senay