Lack of funding for Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service 'discriminatory,' says MPP Gilles Bisson

The Nishnawbe-Aski police service are urging the Ontario government to improve working conditions for First Nations officers. Now some politicians are calling for government to do something about it.

NAPS provides policing services in 35 First Nation communities, covering two-thirds of Ontario

Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service is calling for the Ontario government to step up and improve their working conditions.

The Nishnawbe-Aski police service (NAPS) is urging the Ontario government to improve working conditions for First Nations officers. 

This comes after the police service voted in favour of a strike last week.

Now, politicians are calling for government to do something about the situation. 

NAPS provides policing services in 35 First Nation communities, covering two-thirds of Ontario, from Thunder Bay to Hudson's Bay. 

Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson says NAPS is severely lacking in resources and staff to maintain law and order in communities. 

He adds that many of these communities only have one officer working in them, and says it's time both the provincial and federal governments provide more equitable funding for the police service. 

"This is something that's dangerous for the police officer. What do you do if you need back-up if you're the only person in town? " he said. 

"It's a dangerous situation for the police officer, but imagine what it means to the community." 

Timmins-James Bay MPP says the lack of funding for the Nishnawbe Aski Police service is "discriminatory."

No back-up staff 

Each year, NAPS runs on a budget of about $27 million.  

Jason Storkson, a NAPS officer and president of his local union, says a lack of staff and mouldy living conditions are just some of the issues he and his colleagues face on a daily basis. 

He adds that officers work in risky conditions, because they are the only ones working in communities with no-back-up staff on hand.

"We're going to domestic situations, We're going to calls involving alcohol, our own gun calls. It's all by ourselves. " 

Storkson says a long-term solution is more funding, which will hire more officers, create better police detachments and help buy better equipment.

He says about 95 per cent of NAPS officers voted in favour of the strike, which shows the level of frustration he and his colleagues have. 

"We're saying that we're willing to push the government to a point to get their attention," he said.

"You write letters and you communicate with the MPPs and MPs. They all say they want to help but nothing gets done. It's just been ongoing this way for year after year." 

First Nations police face 'challenges'

David Orazietti, the minister of Community Safety and Correctional services, wasn't available for an interview. 

Though in a statement to CBC news, he encouraged the parties involved to resolve their issues and come to an agreement at the bargaining table, and to continue their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement that will ensure policing services continue to be available in communities within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). 

He also said his ministry continues to monitor the situation. 

"The Ministry recognizes the challenges that First Nations policing partners are facing, and is committed to working with First Nations communities and our federal partners to find long-term solutions to ensure First Nations policing is delivered in a sustainable environment," he said in the statement. 

"This will include examining the legislative status of First Nations police services and developing a provincial framework to ensure equitable and culturally responsive policing for the First Nations communities in Ontario. This work is being undertaken as part of the Ontario government's Strategy for a Safer Ontario, which will update and align the Police Services Act with the current policing needs of all Ontario communities."

Looking for equality

Bisson, who looks after seven communities where NAPS officers serve, says he's heard several complaints about the conditions faced by NAPS officers. 

He says the lack of funding of police services for First Nations is "discriminatory," and added that things need to change quickly. 

"We need to be able to have a plan that brings funding levels up to par of other police services across this province," he said. 

"So if you're living in Attawapiskat or Constance Lake, you should be able to expect a policing service that is equal to those you get anywhere else."

with files from Up North