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Public safety minister proposes temporary funding for 3 First Nations police services operating on ‘fumes’

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has proposed temporary funding for three Indigenous police services that receive money under a special program administered by Ottawa, after their funding was cut off over two months ago as negotiations for a new agreement have stalled.

Mendicino told reporters in Ottawa on Monday he was “not satisfied with the state of negotiations” between the police services and the government.

“I believe that a number of their concerns in fact have merit, which is why I’ve now become directly engaged with the community and I’ve instructed my department to find solutions quickly so that we can resolve any ongoing issues with regards to the flow of monies to the community.”

The First Nations and Inuit Policing Program administers the funding for police services in 425 First Nation and Inuit communities across Canada.

The three police services in Ontario that are at the centre of the negotiations with Ottawa are:

  • Treaty Three Police Service.
  • UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service.
  • Anishinabek Police Service.

Mendicino said while it’s not the convention for ministers to get directly involved with negotiations, he has asked for those police services to receive funding they need over the next 90 days.

“First thing’s first — let’s get funding going back to the community as quickly as possible,” he said.

“Then we’ll get parties back to the table negotiating in good faith so that we can take the next steps to reconciliation.”

A police officer standing at a podium with two other officers in the background.
Treaty Three Police Service Chief Kai Liu, shown at a news conference on Parliament Hill on Monday, joined other First Nations police chiefs to urge Ottawa to reinstate funding for First Nations police. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

However, the lawyer for the three police services said Mendicino’s promise changes nothing.

Julian Falconer said the minister hasn’t outlined what they need to do to be eligible for those funds, and they will continue to resist signing onto any discriminatory policy.

Falconer said he plans to proceed with filing an injunction before a Federal Court for emergency operating funding on behalf of the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario on Wednesday.

Funding cut off March 31

The Treaty Three Police Service, which serves 23 First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario, has been working on a line of credit since June 5.

“We’ve been operating, essentially, on what I would term the fumes that have been left from the previous funding,” Treaty Three Police Service Chief Kai Liu told CBC News.

On March 31, Ottawa’s First Nations and Inuit Policing Program cut off funding to the Treaty Three service, the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service (on Manitoulin Island) and the Anishinabek Police Service (covering a large swath of northeastern Ontario).

Together, they represent 45 First Nation communities and around 30,000 people across northern Ontario.

The three police services arrived at an impasse with the funding body because “it operates in the most extraordinarily racist way,” according to Falconer.

A close up of a blue police badge that says Treaty Three Police.
The Treaty Three Police Service, which serves 23 First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario, has been operating on a line of credit since June 5. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In 2019-2020, the program provided more than $150 million to support 1,350 police officers across Canada. In 2021-2022, it received $540.3 million in funding over five years. The federal government covers 52 per cent of the budget, and the provinces and territories cover the other 48 per cent.

When it came time for the three police services in northern Ontario to renegotiate their agreements with the government, they could not settle on certain terms, which they say restrict their ability to serve their communities.

While a funding increase has been offered, Liu said the terms and conditions prevent the services from owning their own property and, most critically, from operating special police units, such as a canine unit, a major crimes unit and domestic assault unit. 

“These terms and conditions have already been deemed discriminatory by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal as a result of a First Nation complaint that originated out of Quebec,” Liu said.

Lack of resources

At a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, UCCM Anishnaabe Chief of Police James Killeen said the drug issues in his area are “astronomical” and his officers don’t have the resources available to address them.

“We have coroners’ reports that show our overdose deaths are higher than the average in our country,” he said.

Killeen said it would be unheard of for non-Indigenous police services not to get resources for special units, and to lose their funding if they arrive at an impasse with the body giving the funding.

“When a municipal police service contract runs out, the chief of police meets with the mayor and the council,” Killeen said.

“And if they are disagreeing about a budget, they keep working on that. At no point does a mayor and council say to that police service, ‘We’re cutting off funding unless you sign on the dotted line.'”

The Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission over the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program’s terms and conditions.

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