Provincial police forces face cuts as federal fund expires

Provincial police forces will have to look elsewhere for money as a federal program that injected millions into boosting police forces expires.

Budget shortfalls for aboriginal policing, anti-gang and anti-drug squads

An RCMP officer walks with police tape as Parliament Hill. A $400 million federal fund is set to expire in March, leaving provincial police forces scrambling for extra funding. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Provincial police forces will have to look elsewhere for money as a federal program that injected millions into boosting police forces expires in March.

The Police Officer Recruitment Fund is set to expire in March. The $400 million fund was set up in 2008 as a part of the federal government's tough-on-crime agenda and aimed to add 2,500 more police officers across Canada.

Now provinces are facing a choice between scrambling for extra money or cutting the police programs that were developed as a result of the added budget.

Quebec received $92.3 million from the fund, which was put toward several regional organized-crime squads as well as Project Eclipse — a Montreal police unit originally intended to target street gangs, which has since widened its mandate to focus on organized crime.

Now its future is in doubt.

"We're still working on it with the federal minister to make sure we can have a good discussion about the reality we have in Montreal," said Montreal police chief Marc Parent.

"I'm still optimistic."

In Alberta, $42.4 million from the federal fund allowed for the hiring of 83 officers to bolster the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team, which has targeted gangs, drugs and child exploitation throughout the province since 2006.

However, Michelle Davio, a spokeswoman for the provincial Justice and Solicitor General Department, said funding for the 83 positions will extend to the 2014-15 budget year because of when it began to be allocated.

Harper government says it was a 'one-time' investment

The federal government had little to say when asked about the program.

Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, responded in an email that reaffirmed the government's commitment to cracking down on gangs.

"We were pleased to make a significant one-time investment in the provinces and territories to help them bolster their police forces and ensure they had the tools to crack down on gun, gang and drug crime," she said in an email.

"We will continue to crack down on gangs and organized crime across the country through tough measures, like our new sentences for gun crimes associated with organized crime, including drive-by shootings."

But Chief Stephen Tanner, who is president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, was less upbeat in an interview and predicted difficult consequences ahead as the funding ends.

He pointed particularly to shortfalls in aboriginal policing, where 11 officers will likely be cut from the Nishnawabe-Aski Police Service, which is one of North America's largest indigenous police departments.

"That's critical for them," said Tanner, who is also chief of the Halton Regional Police Service.

Tanner pointed out the Nishnawabe-Aski force, which is spread out across 34 communities, polices some of the most impoverished small towns in Ontario's far north.

"They may have to withdraw their services from one or two small communities," Tanner said.

"If they have to do that, the Ontario Provincial Police may be forced to go in to police those communities."

That would place further strain on the already thinly stretched OPP.

Tanner said that pulling about $1 million in police salary from the aboriginal force could actually end up costing $2 million to $3 million if the OPP has to take over.

"Fiscally, it doesn't make sense."

Tom Mulcair says fund should be continued 

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said the continuation of the Police Officer Recruitment Fund has always been important to his New Democratic Party. 

"That program should have been continued and we shouldn't be winding it down," he told a recent news scrum in Montreal.

"There are serious needs. It was a positive role that the government could play in helping those regions of Canada that had the greatest needs fighting gang violence.