Thunder Bay

Nishnawbe Aski Police union applies for conciliation in contract dispute

The union representing Nishnawbe Aski Police Service staff has applied for conciliation in an ongoing contract dispute with the police force.

Wages, health and safety top issues

The union representing Nishnawbe Aski Police Service staff has applied for conciliation in an ongoing contact dispute with the police force.

Sharon DeSousa, Ontario Regional Executive Vice-President for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said the union expects to meet with the conciliator within three weeks.

"Our members are very clear where they stand," she said. "With the strike vote behind them, they've made their voice heard."

NAPS employs more than 130 police officers and about 40 civilian members. It's the largest First Nations police force in Canada, and is in charge of policing more than 30 communities in Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) territory.

The big issues for the union, DeSousa said, are wages — PSAC wants NAPS officers' wages to fall more in line with those of OPP officers — and health and safety.

"What we've seen, systematically, is the under-funding of First Nations communities, as well as policing," she said. "They're funded provincially and federally. Having said that, our members are in isolated communities, and oftentimes they're the only officer there. Backup is another two hours to four hours away."

That leads to extreme stress on officers, DeSousa said.

A news release provided by NAN states that at any given time, "18 per cent of NAPS officers are off-duty, often for stress-leave."

When reached Wednesday, Mike Metatawabin, chair of the NAPS board, declined an interview, referring questions to a media release issued by NAN on Tuesday night.

Canada, Ontario have 'failed' to come to table: Grand Chief

In that release, NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler stated, "It is extremely disappointing that Canada and Ontario have continually failed to come to the table and address the long-standing funding issues for NAPS while, at the same time, we have been making progress on a legislative framework for First Nations policing."

Metatawabin also said the board is considering its next steps.

Fiddler also states First Nations served by NAPS deserve the same levels of policing as other communities in Canada.

DeSousa said the NAPS force is not deemed an essential service, but what that means should a strike happen is unclear.

"This is the first time we've ever gone ahead and considered a strike," she said.