Quebec's Indigenous police forces seeking pay parity with SQ

Indigenous police forces across Quebec want to be recognized as an essential service and receive more funding so they can reach parity with the Sûreté du Québec.

As deadline looms for new funding deal with Ottawa, Indigenous officers want pay bump

It is difficult to retain police officers in the Innu reserve of Uashat-Maliotenam, near Sept-Îles. (Radio-Canada)

Indigenous police forces across Quebec want to be recognized as an essential service and receive enough funding from Ottawa to be paid as much as provincial police officers. 

The demand comes as the deadline looms to finalize a new contract with the federal government under the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP), which is set to expire in March 2018.

The FNPP has been renegotiated every five years since the 1990s. It helps fund police services in more than 450 communities. Without a new agreement, some forces may have to shut down.

"I'm very frustrated," said Dwayne Zacharie, the chief peacekeeper for Kahnawake and the president of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association.

"It's four months until the end of the program and we don't know, essentially, what will happen."

Similar to their provincial police counterparts, Indigenous police forces offer a range of services such as law enforcement and community outreach programs — but on a much tighter budget, said Zacharie.

Under the FNPP, each community negotiates its own agreement, which is "very complicated and time consuming," said Zacharie.  

Negotiating several separate contracts under such a tight deadline have some worrying they will never obtain more funding and their services will suffer as a result.

"Indigenous police forces are police forces in good and due form. They offer real services," said Marc Chaloult, the co-ordinator of public affairs and treaty negotiations for Essipit, an Innu community with a population of 300 near Les Escoumins, Que.

Poor retention and working conditions

Recruiting, training and attracting police officers to Indigenous communities is also an ongoing challenge due to smaller salaries in a stressful environment.

"There's no anonymity, everybody knows who you are all the time, so you're basically on but you're earning a salary that's 10, 20, 30, 40 per cent less than another officer that's doing the same job that you're doing," said Zacharie.

Raynald Malleck, the chief of police for Uashat-Maliotenam, said it's hard for him to compete with the working conditions offered by the SQ and the RCMP. His recruits are quick to leave the Innu reserve near Sept-Îles. 

Quebec's Indigenous police forces are asking for similar financing to what the Sûreté du Québec receives. (Sûreté du Québec)

"The young people who begin with us see that it's better on the other side of the fence," said Malleck. "They leave the job and it's history repeating itself when it comes to young officers."

Some of the police forces covered by the FNPP have officers wearing expired bulletproof vests and working with outdated equipment, according to Zacharie.

In other cases, a lack of infrastructure and deteriorating buildings means police officers have no office to use.

"Who is going to want to come and work for First Nations communities when there is likely no future?" Zacharie said.

New framework needed

With the deadline looming, Zacharie said he wants the federal government to make an offer and discuss an overhaul of the current program.

He also hopes the current agreement won't simply be extended due to a time crunch. He believes a better deal can be struck.

"We'd like to receive funding that's appropriate so we can grow and provide training and provide salaries for retention that are equivalent to what other police services are getting," he said.

Chiefs of Quebec's Indigenous police forces say they need more funding to support their services. (Radio-Canada)

A spokesperson for federal Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale told Radio-Canada that an announcement concerning Indigenous police services is imminent.

"The communities that receive financing under the First Nations Policing Program can be confident that there won't be any interruption in services," said Scott Bardsley.

With files from CBC's Homerun and Radio-Canada