Nfld. & Labrador

Changes to Natuashish policing made without proper consultation, says Innu First Nation chief

The RCMP will be switching to a fly-in, fly-out model, meaning officers will now move in and out of the community in 15-day stints. But Chief John Nui says he doesn't remember meeting with police about the change.

'I don't think the communication was there,' says John Nui

Mushuau Innu First Nation Chief John Nui says he was not consulted on the changes by the RCMP. (CBC)

A change to the structure of policing in Natuashish has come as a surprise to officials in the community, who say there was not enough consultation between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Mushuau Innu First Nation.

The RCMP announced it would be switching to a fly-in, fly-out model in the community, meaning officers will now move in and out of the community in 15-day stints.

Two teams of officers working on three- to five-year contracts will move back and forth between Natuashish and Deer Lake. Placing a team in Deer Lake as opposed to a Labrador community like Happy Valley-Goose Bay was seen as a cost-saving measure, according to RCMP Insp. Keith MacKinnon.

MacKinnon, the officer in charge of the Labrador district, said there were several factors in the decision but the move was centred on officer wellness, as some officers had been requesting early transfers out of the community.

He says the time away from Natuashish will allow officers to recharge, which could lead to more consistency over time.

"We win by ensuring the officers that the officers that are there are recharged, and it's more consistent," MacKinnon said. "That sustainability bodes for better relations in the community and so on. So this is certainly a win-win.

"As I considered this possibility and how it would work for the community, [Chief John Nui] was very much in support. It goes back to that community engagement; this is a really important part to this."

RCMP Insp. Keith MacKinnon, who leads the Labrador district of police, says the Natuashish detachment will introduce a fly-in, fly-out system for officers. They will split their time between Natuashish and Deer Lake. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

While MacKinnon says proper consultation for the change was made with Mushuau Innu First Nation Chief John Nui, Nui doesn't remember it that way. He said the proposed changes came up as a brief aside in a meeting about another topic, and he doesn't believe there was any followup.

"If there was any discussion on the rotation thing … I think there would have been a followup with emails and more meetings. Not just one meeting," Nui said.

"We have a good communication with the people that are here in this community.… I don't think the communication was there."

Nui said he believes the change will affect the community, as officers coming into the community will lack the same rapport officers in the community currently have with townspeople.

"It's going to be a disaster," he said.

"They're just going to come in, do their work, go back to their homes and off they go again. I think it's going to be hard to communicate with them and have a good relationship that way."

MacKinnon said that won't be the case, as officers will undergo cultural training and will be in the community every other two weeks.

"They'll know in two weeks they're gonna to have those people back again, the very same people."

Innu people need to have a say: MHA

Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans said she was "shocked and taken aback" by the lack of consultation, saying she was unable to find many details about the change.

Evans said she has spoken with Justice Minister John Hogan about the issue, and hopes to be a part of a future meeting between government, the Innu Nation and the RCMP.

MHA Lela Evans says she was concerned by the lack of consultation but sees it as an opportunity to move forward and make positive change. (CBC)

"There's been a failure of policing in Natuashish to address the needs of the Innu people," Evans said.

"The Innu people needs to have input, the Innu people have to have a say on what's working, what's not working, to be able to actually put forward suggestions that would improve policing in Natuashish."

With the goal of getting more consultation in mind, Evans said, she hopes a change to the policing system can help the people of Natuashish.

"If there's going to be changes to policing, we got to make sure that the policing actually improves the quality of life of the residents. That needs to be our main priority," she said.

"This actually could become a positive thing. We could do a lot to really improve the policing in Natuashish."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Leslie Amminson