'Not acceptable:' northern Ontario communities fight to save OPP detachment
French River mayor claims OPP were preparing to close detachment without consulting
Four small towns and a First Nation near Sudbury are trying to save their Ontario Provincial Police detachment after learning the police forces is considering shutting it down.
The OPP's detachment in Noëlville has been on the closure list for at least 12 years, according to French River Mayor Gisèle Pageau. Noëlville is within her municipality.
As recently as November, provincial police said there were no immediate plans to close the station. Recent rumours in the community, however, led Pageau to ask OPP for an update. She said the police told her they were working on a ministry brief, recommending the closure of Noëlville detachment.
"We were reassured that, before anything would even begin, that there would be some consultation with the municipality and the residents in each of the four communities that Noëlville services. And that didn't happen," Pageau said.
- In Depth'Treat us the same way you would treat the others' — First Nations police in the north seek fair funding
The Noëlville detachment is a satellite office from the main OPP detachment in Sudbury. It services the municipalities of French River, St. Charles, Killarney and Markstay-Warren.
The OPP has closed several satellite detachments in northeastern Ontario over recent years, including Still River, Manitowaning, Mindemoya, Warren, Matheson and Smooth Rock Falls.
The force has said its officers have enough tools to work out of their cruisers in many situations, rather than frequently returning to a detachment.
Closure 'not acceptable,' says mayor
Pageau said losing the detachment would be difficult for French River. Despite the OPP's assurance that service levels won't change, she said she expected both the perception of policing, and the actual service levels, to take a hit.
She said 10 officers are based out of her community's detachment, and they've been given an option of reporting to either the Sudbury or West Nipissing (Cache Bay) detachments. That may pull them toward service calls in the larger centres.
"I don't buy it for a minute that ... two [officers] will be in our areas every day," said Pageau.
Community campaigning to save detachment
People living in the Noëlville detachment service area have begun circulating a petition that urges the province to keep the police station open. Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas has also supported that effort.
Pageau said it was worrying that, had it not been for the rumours, she may have been shut out of the detachment closure decision entirely.
"We would have been told what was going on, and we wouldn't have had a chance to gather our citizens, you know, and get them informed about what's happening," she said.
Pageau said French River's permanent population is about 2,600, but that number grows to around 10,000 in the summer, which means policing needs could be underestimated.
OPP spokesperson Carlo Berardi said the decision on the future of the detachment has not yet been finalized.
"Any decision regarding policing service and OPP detachment facilities in Noëlville will involve evaluation and consultation with all relevant stakeholders," he said.
OPP consultation previously lacking
Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens said the Noëlville detachment story sounded similar to when his community lost the Mindemoya OPP detachment in 2020. When OPP opened its new mega-detachment in Little Current, the island's mayors went for a tour and were told the Mindemoya and Manitowaning detachments would close in a few months.
"Everybody's jaw dropped, that we had not had any indication," he said. "I'm at a loss. I don't think it's a good way to do business. You would like to be part of the team when there's a decision being made that affects you, but that isn't the way they're operating."
Stephens said he didn't have access to statistics that would show if there had been any impact to public safety since the Mindemoya detachment closed, but he said community members have said they feel less secure.
Pageau said the communities near Noëlville are working on briefs to send to the provincial government to plead for the detachment's continued operations. She said they will submit those in the coming months.
Pageau said she wasn't sure if French River and the surrounding communities would be able to stop the closure, but she said she was hopeful for a good outcome.