Thunder Bay

Strike looming for Nishnawbe Aski Police Service in northern Ontario

Police officers who serve remote First Nations in northern Ontario could be in a legal strike position as early as September.

Officers no longer willing to face 'nightmarish situations' alone, union president says

The Nishnawbe Aski police detachment in Eabametoong First Nation opened in 2015 and is one of the few modern police buildings in the 35 communities served by NAPS. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Police officers who serve 35 remote First Nations in northern Ontario could be in a legal strike position as early as September.

Talks between the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) and the union representing about 150 of its officers broke off this week. That's when the Public Service Alliance of Canada NAPS Local 401 applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to start the clock ticking on a strike deadline.

Nearly 95 per cent of officers voted in favour of a strike in July.

"We just aren't given the proper resources or tools to do our jobs effectively or safely," said Jason Storkson, the president of local 401. "We have officers working by themselves for the majority of the time with no communications."

A communications centre, 911 operators, emergency medical services and local back-up are all absent in the First Nations served by NAPS, he said.

Jason Storkson is the president of PSAC local 401, representing Nishnawbe Aski police officers. (
"So you have one officer dealing with very nightmarish situations and at the end of the call all you have left is yourself," he said, adding that about 20 per cent of officers are on stress leave at any given time.

The chair of the police services board said the problems with NAPS are long-standing and are a result of the inadequate funding received from the provincial and federal governments.

"You can't really blame the officers for [threatening to strike]," Mike Metatawabin said. "We all know the conditions, we all know what they go through, we all know that we've been underfunded."

NAPS is funded through the First Nations Policing Program. An auditor generals report in 2014 found the program is not adequately funded and not working as intended.

Mike Metatawabin is the chair of the Nishnawbe Aski Police Services Board.
Metatawabin said the police board is continuing to pressure both levels of government for more funding.

Storkson agreed that the current level of government funding makes it impossible for NAPS to meet union demands to have two officers stationed in each community and a modern communications system.

But he said officers are unwilling to wait any longer for the government and the police service to negotiate a new funding model.

"We've been promised things are going to change and nothing has changed," he said. "Our goal is for safety and they can fix it now. We're saying enough is enough."

A strike can legally occur 17 days from the time the Ontario Labour Relations Board approves the union's request. The union said it is expecting that approval within days.

But both sides said they are willing to continue to meet even if that happens. More talks between the union and the police board are scheduled for September 14.