In major ruling, feds to extend funding for Indigenous police services

In a ruling that lawyer Julian Falconer calls “groundbreaking,” the Federal Court has ordered Public Safety Canada to extend funding to three Indigenous police services for 12 months, after the groups faced shutdown due to a lack of funding.

Northern Ontario Indigenous police services awarded 12-month extension on funding

A close up of a blue police badge that says Treaty Three Police.
The Treaty Three Police service serves 23 First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario and has been operating on a line of credit since June 5. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In a ruling that lawyer Julian Falconer calls "a new dawn" for Indigenous policing, the Federal Court has ordered Public Safety Canada to extend funding to three Indigenous police services for 12 months, after the groups faced imminent shutdown due to a lack of funding.

The Treaty Three Police Service (T3PS), UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service and Anishinabek Police Service (APS) have not received funding from the federal government since March 31, as negotiations with Ottawa reached an impasse.

The three Indigenous forces cover 45 First Nations surrounding the coast of Lake Huron from Kettle Point to Fort William. They also include Manitoulin Island.

When it came time for the three police services to renegotiate their agreements with the government, they could not settle on certain terms, which they say restrict their ability to serve their communities.

Falconer said the terms included restrictions on how Indigenous police services allocate their money, limiting their ability to set up special police units to address drug investigations or domestic violence.

"I find it kind of a sad commentary on where this government is at that it would take a judge to have to order them to do the right thing," Falconer said.

"It's inconceivable to me. The unfairness of how Indigenous police services are treated. The second class citizen-style treatment. The penny pinching and squeezing on issues of safety for First Nation communities."

The police groups had asked a judge to order the government to lift three conditions included in the funding framework called the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP), established in 1996.

A man in a blue blazer sits with his hands folded at a wooden desk.
Lawyer Julian Falconer is representing three Indigenous police services. (Marc Doucett/CBC)

The FNIPP normally covers operating costs for the three police services. The federal government administers the program and provides 52 per cent of the funding. The province of Ontario provides 48 per cent of the funding, and the respective First Nation communities also provide a small amount of additional funding.

Falconer said the program's funding agreement also prohibits them from taking out loans to buy their own infrastructure, and from spending their funding on legal representation to interpret the funding agreements.

He added that Indigenous police services don't get funding from the FNIPP for special units, such as major crime units and domestic assault units.

Falconer said a Federal Court decision in January 2022, along with decisions by the Quebec Court of Appeal, recognized the funding model for Indigenous police services in Canada "operates in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion."

"I mean, it's absolutely bizarre, draconian and racist, and Canada has no explanation for this other than those are the rules," he said.

After today's ruling, Falconer said he hopes the legal precedent encourages other First Nations to hold out for fairer deals for their communities.

A police officer standing at a podium with two other officers in the background.
Treaty Three Police Chief Kai Liu speaks at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, June 12, 2023. Liu joined other First Nations police chiefs to urge the government to negotiate terms of references for the contract and reinstate funding for First Nations Police. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In his decision handed down on Friday, Federal Court Justice Denis Gascon said that Indigenous communities served by the three services will suffer "irreparable harm if mandatory injunctive relief is not granted."

"I further conclude that this is an exceptional situation where it is just and equitable for the Court to intervene and to exercise its discretion in IPCO's favour," Gascon wrote, "in order to prevent the harm that will be caused to the public security and personal safety of Indigenous people residing in the communities serviced by T3PS, APS, and UCCM if the cessation of funding for the Three Police Services is maintained." 

Gason also noted that it fundamentally correct, and "somewhat troubling" for the ministry to keep labelling restrictions on police services as "restraints" in the agreements' terms and conditions.

"A self-imposed limitation or restriction over which a person has total control is not a constraint. It is a choice," Gascon wrote.

"And here, it appears that, for the time being, PSC and Canada have made the deliberate choice to maintain the prohibitions on using the funding of self-administered Indigenous police services for the financing of infrastructure or for the costs of legal representation, even though there is no evidence of any rationale supporting it."

You can read the full judge's decision by clicking here.

With files from Casey Stranges, Jonathan Migneault & Kate Rutherford