Indigenous police services fight for funding equality: A look into the 2023 funding crisis
February 8, 2024 By Brittani Schroeder
In early spring 2023, funding negotiations between the federal government and the Indigenous police services of Ontario fell through.
On Mar. 29, the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario (IPCO), who represent nine standalone Indigenous police services, filed a human rights complaint against Public Safety Canada, claiming under-funding and under-resourcing of Indigenous police services amounted to systemic discrimination.
The funding agreements officially expired as of Mar. 31, 2023.
“Most Canadians assume that funding for policing is automatic, but that is not the case for Indigenous police services. These police departments are a ‘program’, and there is always the threat of being cut,” says Sgt. Chantal Larocque, Anishinabek Police Service. She went on to explain that when funding was cut, one Indigenous police service needed to rely on a line of credit to meet payroll.
The Indigenous police chiefs of Anishinabek Police Service (APS), Treaty Three Police Service (T3PS) and UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service (UCCM), with IPCO, jointly took Public Safety Canada to court, to obtain an injunction to release the funds for their services, as they were on the verge of ceasing operations.
“From a personal standpoint, it was a moment of pride to see the three services come together for a common goal,” says Chief Cheryl Gervais of T3PS, who was an inspector at the time. “I grew up in these First Nations communities, and seeing these police chiefs work together reinforced the idea that nothing is done alone. It’s also important to acknowledge the support of our community leadership and police services boards and staff, who continued to serve under these stressful circumstances.”
On June 30, the Federal Court granted an emergency motion for 12 months of relief for the three services. APS, T3PS and UCCM were relieved from compliance with discriminatory clauses found in Section 6 of the Terms and Conditions of the First Nation Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP). The clauses are:
- Prohibited the financing of policing infrastructure, and
- Prohibited expenditures on legal representation for Indigenous police services.
The Honourable Justice Gascon ruled that Canada had not acted honourably in its dealing with APS, T3PS and UCCM. He said,
[Public Safety Canada] did not consistently follow its duty to act honourably and in the spirit of reconciliation as it kept insisting on the impossibility to negotiate the Terms and Conditions and the prohibitions they contain. … Canada always has an obligation to act in ways that maintain the honour of the Crown vis-à-vis Indigenous peoples and that are in line with the objective of reconciliation (paragraph 174 of Decision).
This funding is only temporary, as the Indigenous police services will need to return to the negotiation table with both the federal and provincial governments to reach an agreement by Mar. 31, 2024. The federal government’s portion of funding amounts to 52 per cent of a police service’s budget, and the provincial government makes up the remaining 48 per cent. In 2023, the provincial government was willing to negotiate.
Throughout the initial negotiations and the subsequent court proceedings, the chiefs of the three police services kept morale high. “Chief Skye said to us, ‘Do I look worried? Until I look worried, you have nothing to worry about.’ We knew our leaders were prepared to fight for us, and it felt good to have that support,” says Sgt. Larocque.
More with less
Chief Gervais and Sgt. Larocque summed up Indigenous policing in just a few words when they explained, “We have to do more with less.”
Indigenous police services are not considered an essential service, and though there have been many discussions over the years to officially recognize them as such, the change has yet to occur.
“First Nation communities have some of the worst crime indexes and crime rates in Canada, and the inequality of not having a properly funded police service to deal with these crimes is discriminatory in itself,” says Sgt. Larocque.
“I grew up in these First Nations communities, and seeing these police chiefs work together reinforced the idea that nothing is done alone.” – Chief Cheryl Gervais
For Chief Gervais, being considered an essential service is the goal, “especially when we’re talking about equitable policing between an Indigenous community and another community in the Province of Ontario.” But for her, it goes beyond that recognition. She believes that Indigenous communities and police services deserve more because of their history with Canada. As an Indigenous person working for an organization that does not historically have a good relationship of interactions with Indigenous communities, Chief Gervais knows her team needs to work harder to build trust and confidence with the communities they serve.
A lasting impact
If funding was halted indefinitely for the Indigenous police services across Ontario, it would have a detrimental effect on the communities they serve.
Chief Gervais grew up in Iskatewizaagegan #39 First Nation, and though she had career aspirations to join the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), she decided to join Indigenous Policing by becoming a First Nation constable serving her home community just before transitioning to T3PS in 2003 and has spent the last two decades there. It’s a decision that she has never regretted. She still remembers when the founding members of T3PS came to her community to discuss the new police service. “They shared their plan for the service but also asked us what we would want from them so they could appropriately serve us,” she says.
Indigenous police services, like APS, T3PS and UCCM, keep cultural awareness and cultural teachings at the forefront so they can serve their communities more effectively.
The video project
In the spring of 2023, Sgt. Larocque was tasked with creating videos that would explain what was happening with the government. The police chiefs involved knew what was going on, as did select members of the First Nations communities being served, but as Sgt. Larocque said, many Ontarians and Canadians were not aware.
Sgt. Larocque describes herself as a light, positive and fun person, so creating videos of a more serious nature was difficult. “But this matter was too important not to do it justice,” she shares. She wanted to grab peoples’ attention and address this complex issue.
In the video, posted to APS’ social media accounts, Sgt. Larocque is seen putting pieces of technology and gear into a receptacle that represents the Government of Canada. This was to represent the feeling that the government was stripping away their Indigenous culture and identity as police officers, which ultimately would leave the First Nations communities “high and dry”.
After the video was posted, Kai Liu, the now-retired chief of T3PS, called Sgt. Larocque to say that a second video should be planned—a victory video. “He had such confidence that we would win.”
A victory video was shared after the June 30 decision.
Since releasing the two videos, the three Indigenous police services have gained more support from the greater Canadian community.
What happens next?
As Sgt. Larocque appropriately asks, how can a police service progress when they can never plan ahead?
As the funding was only released for 12 months, Chief Gervais says they have already returned to the negotiation table to begin the process, with the hopes that an agreement will be made on both sides.
“My goal, now sitting at the table as Chief, is to consider the impact of these negotiations as we advance. In Indigenous culture, when we make decisions, we consider the next seven generations and what will impact them,” she shares. As Chief Gervais envisions the future of T3PS, she commits to remaining mindful of individuals who may be missing from the planning table and ensuring their presence during decision-making processes.
For Sgt. Larocque, Indigenous police services need to be seen as equals, not as lesser than other police services. “We are all doing the same job,” she says.
This education has already started with several police services across Ontario. Recently, T3PS facilitated a 12-week officer exchange program with Barrie Police Service (BPS), where BPS sent two officers to T3PS for two weeks at a time, to learn from one another. “BPS’ intent was ‘What can we do to help?’, but it was also an opportunity for us to share with them the challenges we face, and the things we do well in Indigenous policing,” says Chief Gervais. T3PS also learned from BPS what they might change to serve their communities better going forward. Other police services have contacted IPCO looking to do similar exchanges with Indigenous police services in the future.
In addition to the educational aspects comes the recognition of Truth and Reconciliation. As Chief Gervais explains, it goes beyond land acknowledgment; reconciliation is demonstrated through your actions, in what you’re doing as an organization, and as a person. “Ask yourself, what could you be doing to help?”
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