Sûreté du Québec takeover of policing in Obedjiwan costs $100K weekly

With no agreement over funding for the Obedjiwan police force in sight, the Sûreté du Québec has taken over duties on the territory of the Atikamekw First Nation - to the tune of more than $100,000 per week.

Atikamekw First Nation north of Roberval disbanded local force in dispute with province over policing costs

Obedjiwan police have faced chronic funding issues for the past several years. (Obedjiwan)

The Sûreté du Québec has taken over duties from the local police force on the territory of the Atikamekw First Nation of Obedjiwan in the Mauricie region – at a cost of more than $100,000 per week.

The Obedjiwan council disbanded its police force, which employed 22 officers to patrol the reserve 200 kilometres west of Roberval, Que., on April 1, because of a dispute with the province over policing costs.

The chief of the Obedjiwan band council, Christian Awashish, said the Public Security Ministry failed to provide $600,000 in additional funding promised to the community to keep its police force afloat.

SQ dispatches 10 officers

CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada, has learned that the SQ has dispatched about 10 officers to patrol the community of 2,000 since the local force was disbanded.

Most are there on overtime, assigned to shifts in Obedjiwan while on leave or in addition to their regular duties.

That means the SQ is also incurring costs for the officers' travel, meals and other expenses, according to a retired SQ officer, Sylvain Tremblay.

"For example, if [officers] from Roberval take two hours to get there, then their travel time is remunerated too," Tremblay said. "Three meals per day are covered. So we're talking about high costs, but it's an exceptional situation."

Policing agreement not renewed

The provincial police force is bearing all of those costs, without any financial contribution from the federal government.

Ottawa usually pays half the cost of policing on reserves in Quebec under tripartite agreements signed with First Nations' authorities.

However, the agreement in the Atikamekw community of Obedjiwan hasn't been renewed because of the funding dispute.

The band has been seeking more money since 2012.

A 2015 study conducted by the SQ concluded the Obedjiwan police force required between $2.6 million and $3.2 million to operate. It now receives about $2.2 million in annual financing – which works out to about $42,000 a week.

'Where is the logic?'

"Where is the logic in accepting to pay what is, without a doubt, double, triple of what it would cost with an agreement?" asked Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

"At least that would be shared financially between the federal and the provincial government."

Negotiations between Obedjiwan and Quebec's Public Security Ministry to end the dispute over funding have gone nowhere, so far.

Radio-Canada has learned the federal government has stepped in with a proposal to end the impasse and increase Obedjiwan's policing budget, however, provincial authorities aren't commenting.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Jean-Philippe Robillard