Politics

First Nations police still waiting for answers from Ottawa on funding

Nearly a year after the federal government promised an overhaul to the way police services in Indigenous communities are funded, First Nations police chiefs say they've heard nothing from Ottawa.

'We're anxiously awaiting to hear something but we haven't heard anything at this point'

The federal government pays about half the cost of policing for close to 400 First Nations and Inuit communities across Canada. The First Nations Policing Program, which started in 1991, covers the cost of about 1,250 officers, who serve more than 338,000 people. (Troy Fleece/Canadian Press)

Nearly a year after the federal government promised an overhaul to the way police services in Indigenous communities are funded, First Nations police chiefs say they've heard nothing from Ottawa.

The First Nations Policing Program (FNPP) has been in place since the 1990s. It helps pay for police services in more than 450 communities.

Indigenous officers have long complained the funding they receive is inadequate.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale last year acknowledged the current funding model "does not cut the mustard." But First Nations police chiefs say, since then, Ottawa has not come up with any concrete proposals to improve or restructure the way their forces are financed.

"We're anxiously awaiting to hear something but we haven't heard anything at this point," said Chief Terry Armstrong, head of the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service in Northern Ontario, Canada's largest Indigenous police force.

"Nobody knows what's going to come out of Ottawa."

Armstrong said he's feeling both concern and frustration with the lack of information. He said the uncertainty makes it harder for his force to plan for the future and retain staff.

"We've lost a number of officers this summer to other police forces," Armstrong said. "They're going to go someplace that they know there's a job into the future."

Recognition and resources

In its present form, the First Nations Policing Program is re-negotiated every five years. The current agreement is set to expire at the end of March 2018. First Nations police have been lobbying to move toward a more stable funding model.

At its general meeting in Toronto this month, the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association passed a resolution calling on Ottawa and the provinces to declare police services in Indigenous communities an essential service and commit to long-term funding.

"We're asking for the same recognition, resourcing and support as other police services in Canada," said Dwayne Zacharie, the association's president and the chief peacekeeper in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, Que.

Zacharie told CBC News he too is frustrated with the lack of communication from Ottawa.

"Right now, we're guessing," Zacharie said. "The only information we have is that Public Safety Canada doesn't know what they're going to do yet."

Answers coming 'as rapidly as we can,' says Goodale

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government would provide answers about the status of the First Nations Policing Program soon.

"The process is going forward," Goodale said, adding that reforming the funding model is a complicated matter; one that involves Indigenous communities, the federal government and the provinces, which also help pay for policing.

"It's re-designing, re-shaping a program that was first designed in about 1996 and hasn't been updated since," Goodale said.

Goodale said the federal government hopes to update Indigenous groups "just as rapidly as we can".

"My objective is well before the end of the current fiscal year, because we've got a lot of work to do. And I want to get it done in a thoughtful way and not rushed at the last minute," he said.

The federal government pledged $102 million for Indigenous policing starting next year.

In a statement, Public Safety Canada this week acknowledged the deadline for a new funding agreement is approaching.

"Public Safety Canada remains committed to a flexible, transparent process that will allow for a meaningful dialogue with Indigenous communities on policing agreements," the statement said.

"Federal funding for policing services in FNPP communities will continue and there will be no break in policing services." 

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