UNDERFUNDING OF FIRST NATIONS POLICING
An Ojibway First Nation in northern Ontario has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for chronic inequitable funding of its policing services. The community alleges that the insufficient funding has resulted in a public safety crisis. The officers are working without adequate resources, including no cell or satellite phone access, and no police station or support staff, and they receive lower pay than other officers in Ontario. Chantelle Bryson, a lawyer (Potestio Law Firm) representing the First Nation, has stated that the federal government's "take it or leave it" approach to funding First Nations police services has resulted in tragedy.
Chief Wilfred King has launched the legal action in Federal Court against Public Safety Canada and other federal departments in response to the inequitable funding of First Nations Police Services. The lack of funding for First Nations police services has compromised the safety of First Nations communities for too long. The federal government's failure to invest in First Nations policing has prevented these communities from being able to determine their own safety needs and respond to recommendations set out by national inquiries, like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report published in 2019.
Systemic racism, over-policing, and police misconduct have long been studied, and action is overdue. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is working on developing and implementing a statutory framework recognizing First Nations Police Services as essential services with equitable funding and capacity supports. The AFN Regional Chief Quebec/Labrador Ghislain Picard is supportive of the legal challenge.
The lack of funding for First Nations policing is not a new issue. The underfunding of First Nations communities has resulted in inadequate services, and policing is no exception. The First Nations Policing Program (FNPP) was established in 1991, with the goal of improving policing services in First Nations communities. However, the program has been criticized for chronic underfunding, resulting in an inability to hire enough officers or provide adequate training and equipment.
The lack of funding has resulted in an over-reliance on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to provide policing services in First Nations communities. The RCMP has been criticized for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and for its role in perpetuating systemic racism. The over-reliance on the RCMP has resulted in a lack of trust between First Nations communities and the police, which further undermines public safety.
In conclusion, the lawsuit filed by the Ojibway First Nation in northern Ontario is an important step in addressing the chronic underfunding of First Nations policing. The federal government must recognize that First Nations policing is an essential service that requires equitable funding and capacity supports. The AFN's work on developing a statutory framework for First Nations Police Services is also a critical step in addressing this issue. It is time for the federal government to take action and invest in First Nations policing to ensure the safety and well-being of these communities.