When a widely shared video was released June 12th, featuring local APS (Anishinabek Police Service) officer Sgt. Chantal Larocque placing all of her policing accoutrements into an empty bucket labeled Government of Canada, it caught a lot of local people by surprise. The video declared a state of emergency for three northern Indigenous police services, Treaty Three Police Service (T3PS), the APS, and the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin Anishinabe Police Service (UCCMAPS), as they have run out of funding “as a result of Public Safety Canada’s refusal to negotiate funding agreements that would provide adequate funding to police Indigenous communities”, according to the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario (IPCO).
The police chiefs say the government’s refusal to negotiate implies a lack of respect for the policing agencies that serve 45 First Nation communities, including Nipissing and Dokis. The chiefs instigated a federal hearing for emergency injunction relief funding and lodged a human rights complaint against Canada. In the meantime, though, the services are in jeopardy.
Chantal Larocque has become a popular face of Indigenous law enforcement with her oft-viewed online videos of community policing, community outreach, crime prevention through education – changing years of distrust through her active boots-on-the-ground, hands-on-the-wheel, personal involvement with a big dose of kindly attitude. Her videos are usually positive and upbeat, which makes the sombre message of June 12 all the more striking as she solemnly exits her police car and leaves her CB radio dangling, signalling an imminent end to service if nothing is done.
A Federal Court hearing was begun on June 14th, with presentations from both sides. Indigenous police officers across the province were glued to the broadcast, including Sgt. Larocque. On June 15th there was no definitive conclusion. Canada did offer arbitrary funding, but without negotiation, based on past agreements. But, according to IPCO, it is not enough, and not in accord with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). IPCO lawyer Julian Falconer indicated that the police chiefs will not sign onto a discriminatory policy, even though Police Chief Kai Lui of T3PS said, “We’ve been operating, essentially, on what I would term the fumes that have been left from the previous funding”.
The IPCO chiefs say certain terms of the agreement offered restrict their ability to serve their communities – they want to be able to create special services, most critically canine units, major crime units and domestic assault units, and funding conditions prevent the services owning their own property. Sgt. Chantal Larocque invited The Tribune to come visit the APS detachment at Nipissing First Nation, to witness the conditions out of which local Indigenous police are expected to operate, noting the local detachment is one of the “better” equipped.
“It’s a complicated situation,” says Larocque, noting she is not a legal expert. On Canada’s side the lawyers argued the Indigenous police services could readily access provincial police services (OPP). Larocque says this is misdirection, because municipal policing is allowed specialty services, and the Indigenous police need to have the same access. “In my opinion, they should have said, well then, every service in Ontario should use the OPP for specialty units and no one should have them because what they’re telling us is that everyone else can, within municipal policing, but we can’t. The problem is the OPP is stretched and… a lot of our locations, by the time you actually get them there, it’s too late.” Larocque is especially concerned about domestic violence, homicide and drugs. “UCCM, in particular, has been hit hard with the drug trade, with the gangs from Southern Ontario. …You can’t have the OPP come in and do all of your crime work. It just doesn’t make sense… The OPP acknowledges [that]; when you look at Ipperwash and what happened with Dudley George, that in the worst moment of a community, you bring in an outside agency, you’re setting yourself up to fail and to have stuff really get out of hand. We’re saying, no, we want to handle those moments ourselves.”
The third non-negotiating issue concerns infrastructure. “[The Tribune is] local. …I would love for you to come and visit… see what we work in. It’s so embarrassing that we just laugh about it now, because it feeds the racism and this concept that we are lesser than any other police service. It’s hard to combat that when you have worse vehicles, when you have a worse office and when you have your counterparts come in, they see you as less because you have less, although we are all police officers within the province of Ontario with the same jurisdiction.” Larocque says the agreement on the table does not allow for necessary infrastructure improvements. “It just doesn’t make sense. …You can’t finance it. There’s just so many rules. …The only way you could have infrastructure is to buy it with cash. And you know who is doling out the cash… So how do we buy a $1,000,000 detachment or fund it without being able to fund it to lease or to pay?”
Upon visiting the APS detachment, one finds a rabbit-warren of tiny offices tucked in behind the back end of Nbising Secondary School, an APS detachment that serves Nipissing, Dokis and Whanipitei first nations. Administration is in an 8-foot corner with chairs bumping back-to-back, where the dispatcher and staff work. The offices process everything from criminal record checks to complaints for about 4000 residents over a huge area, walk-ins, interviews of all sorts. The facility essentially breaks all the rules for what a detachment should be, but, as Sgt Larocque says with a laugh just before conducting her tour, “It gets better!”
The two washrooms, men/women, have to be shared with anyone who comes into the space, including suspects, offenders and public. “When we do fingerprints they’re in our washrooms, so we can’t keep anything in there… We can’t keep any of our personal items because we have prisoners going in and out when we process them,” describes Larocque.
The room housing the computer servers also houses the fridge and microwave (kitchen) area, with cable running across the floor because the servers would crash if the microwave oven was used. There’s no running water in the kitchen area. To say the facility is cramped would be an understatement. Police and staff use a folding table for lunch.
Most concerning, the police detachment is attached to a school, a situation that Sgt. Larocque says is entirely inappropriate. “So categorically wrong. We’re registering sex offenders at a school, you know, just put that into perspective for a second.” Larocque specifically cautions against comparing their facilities to the high-end OPP facility in Cache Bay. But compared to smaller and similar municipal facilities, it’s “pathetic”. The communities served out of this office have no substations, and Whanipitei FN is two hours away.
“Seven officers trying to work out of here [plus staff equals 12],” yet somehow the atmosphere remains positive, staff smiling and courteous, everyone joking about the conditions, showing off how you have to be careful leaning back in a chair or it might collapse. Despite using a collapsing table for lunch, “We have the best meals!”
Larocque says, “When you can’t cry, you will laugh and the best of it? Even OPP or people come, they say we do have a very good team, just because we’re tight.” Even so, the lack of infrastructure is dangerous. “This would be like an interview room, but the problem is it’s very unsafe.” The room should be exclusively used for interviews but also contains the vault for tasers and other equipment. “We’ve had interviews and officers are waiting to get in here to get gear, so you’re interrupting a serious interview. …It’s a ridiculous space that we’re trying to deal with now.” The officers and staff at APS really must love their jobs to work under those conditions. “We’re doing it because we care,” acknowledges Sgt. Chantal Larocque.
But they can’t do it without resources, she insists. Without fair negotiation, “You can’t move forward. There’s no succession planning. … Every contract that gets renewed, you can never grow.” The number of officers does increase, and cost of living increases are assured in wages, but First Nation communities are growing and need more services. Larocque says funding levels need to reflect this, but Canada is playing a “numbers game”.