Sgt Chantal Larocque of the Anishinabek Police Service (APS) is back in business and feeling good. The Government of Canada was ordered to fund three Ontario First Nations police services [IPCO], including APS, after they filed for an emergency injunction. Justice Denis Gascon found in favour of the APS, the Treaty 3 Police Service (T3PS) and the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service, requiring the funding to be released without any arbitrary conditions as proposed by Public Safety Canada (PSC). Two weeks ago, the three police agencies had declared an emergency as they hadn’t been funded since March 31st, and they refused to sign a federal contract that they felt restricted their ability to serve their communities, forcing them to sound the alarm and seek the court’s intervention.
Sgt. Larocque, who recruits police officers for the APS and is the force’s public face on social media, gave an extensive tour of the subpar facilities she and her fellow officers work out of, explaining the conditions Indigenous police officers contend with. While the news that the funding was secured without conditions for this year, Larocque said, “It’s what we wanted, but what we have to remember is that it’s a temporary fix.” Temporary fix or not, it is a landmark decision that my affect Indigenous police services across the nation, and proper negotiations can now begin in earnest for following years.
The ruling was released last Friday, June 30th. Lawyer Julian Falconer argued that Public Safety Canada’s terms for funding imposed restrictions on Indigenous police services, including the inability to set up special units specialized to address severe crimes, drug investigations and domestic violence. The restrictions also prohibited the use of funding for legal counsel or financing for infrastructure such as buildings. Canada argued that these terms and conditions could not be changed, they were non-negotiable. Then Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino did arbitrarily allow for special units. Falconer was reported as saying, “I find it kind of a sad commentary on where this government is at, that it would take a judge to have to order them to do the right thing… It’s inconceivable to me, the unfairness of how Indigenous police services are treated; the second class citizen style of treatment, the penny pinching and squeezing on issues of safety for First Nation communities.”
For local police it’s a sigh of relief. “I think the big take away is that the Minister, you know, ultimately was able to change the terms and conditions in one aspect, while the government continuously said, ‘We are unable to, we’re bound by terms and conditions’. Their own Minister was able to overturn a term and a condition, to accommodate specialty services,” Larocque points out. “If you did it there, then it can be done. So that’s an interesting point that they’re going to bring to …the next negotiations.”
The three Indigenous agencies are now able to serve their 45 First Nations communities, roughly 30,000 people, with none of the conditions they had to deal with up to now. Sgt Larocque says that, regardless, the funding only allows them to stay afloat. “This is a short-term fix. I don’t think any big decisions will be made in terms of infrastructure. There were previous agreements in place separate from our funding for some infrastructure that’s still to be fulfilled, but it’s still under certain terms and conditions again… At least they permit us to stay afloat so that all parties can come to a table again and properly negotiate.” The constant underfunding and constraints will be tackled. “It begs the question… Why is it just in Indigenous policing that this is occurring? Why is it just Indigenous communities that are being potentially left without a police service? …You don’t see it in municipal policing, you don’t see it at the provincial level or at the federal level.”
The decision by Justice Gascon is groundbreaking and could affect Indigenous police agencies across the country. Larocque says, “I would safely make that assumption that, definitely, other services are going to use this decision to promote their positions in terms of these tripartite agreements [provincial, federal and First Nation] and the restrictions and the restraints from the terms and conditions. You might see a bit better representation and fighting for equality. Yes, but it was a dangerous step to take in the sense that you’re potentially leaving communities without policing, and you’re potentially leaving a lot of employees without jobs. But it’s a risk [the 3 policing agencies] felt was worth taking so that we can get equal treatment.”
Justice Gascon also found that there was indeed potential long term harm in not adequately funding the three agencies. Their agreements have only been in place since 1996, not a long time, but in that period the Indigenous police have made huge strides in their communities, even with the constraints. “That’s what we tell people…. You look at other police agencies, they’re over 100 years old. You need to give us the equal time to grow. We’re barely 30 years old! There are certain things we have to learn… and adapt to the needs of our communities, and they are definitely different… They adapted to the requirements of the municipalities, and it should be no different for First Nations communities,” contends Larocque.
As for her personal feelings, “Although our chiefs were very confident, I think, given what the histories taught us between the government and Indigenous peoples, there was still a chance of potentially losing this and leaving our communities high and dry, and being without employment. It was a scary thought for a lot of people, and so it’s a huge relief. A huge victory, yeah. Although we know it’s temporary, it’s still a huge … historical moment. And hopefully it will bring change for not just the three services involved, but every Indigenous police service will evolve.” She adds that even if Canada appeals the decision, the Indigenous police services are in a good position for negotiating now.