Aug 20 2012 SYDNEY - The tough job of policing is a little tougher in many First Nations communities where basic social safety nets are often lacking, according to a former grand chief and MP.
Gary Merasty gave the keynote address at the annual Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conference Monday at Centre 200 in Sydney and talked about the challenges facing aboriginal communities and the implications of people on the police forces serving them. The former Saskatchewan MP and two-time grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council said social safety nets that many Canadians take for granted aren’t present in the same way for many First Nations people.
“They’re not in existence in our communities, so you have police forces that are going in there and they’re the only safety net, perhaps, in that community. And so, are police forces today equipped to deal with that reality? I think many of them aren’t,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Merasty said the most successful police forces establish a level of trust with the First Nations community they serve. Keys to achieving that trust are for officers to build relationships and participate in the community’s day-to-day life, events, and traditions.
Asked if he favours separate aboriginal police forces, Merasty said that they can work if they have the proper resources and are “set up to succeed.”
“I think there is a lot of room for these aboriginal police forces to be in existence. I think they’re part of the solution, they’re not the only solution. I think collaborative efforts with the existing police forces across Canada is critical and necessary,” he said.
Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac said that his force’s relationship with Membertou First Nation has improved significantly. He credited former police chief Edgar MacLeod and Membertou Chief Terry Paul for turning around what was an under-funded and poorly structured police service in Membertou.
“It was basically a drive-thru service. There was no support there, there was no connection to the community, which in turn, there was no trust,” said McIsaac.
Today, a community policing model is working well there, he said.
“We are part of that community and that community is part of us, and that’s why it’s working. You have to build those relationships and you have to build those trusts. They don’t just give it to you, you have to work at it every single day,” he said.
Approximately 325 delegates are attending the national police chief’s conference and events are being held in both Sydney and Membertou. It began Sunday and continues until Wednesday.
(Cape Breton Post)