Blue Line

News
SQ patrols First Nations community

Apr 03 2013

Provincial police continued to patrol a remote First Nations community in Quebec on Tuesday after the federal and provincial governments failed to renew an agreement that paid the salaries of 26 aboriginal police forces across the province.

About 16 Sûreté du Québec officers were dispatched to the logging town of Opitciwan at midnight Sunday, just moments after the funding agreement expired. The SQ is operating out of the local police station, answering 911 calls, going out on patrols and doing the work ordinarily reserved for Opitciwan's 17-officer police force.

"We are there until we get new orders," Sgt. Claude Denis of the SQ said.


April 4, 2013
By Corrie Sloot

Apr 03 2013

Provincial police continued to patrol a remote First Nations community in Quebec on Tuesday after the federal and provincial governments failed to renew an agreement that paid the salaries of 26 aboriginal police forces across the province.

About 16 Sûreté du Québec officers were dispatched to the logging town of Opitciwan at midnight Sunday, just moments after the funding agreement expired. The SQ is operating out of the local police station, answering 911 calls, going out on patrols and doing the work ordinarily reserved for Opitciwan’s 17-officer police force.

“We are there until we get new orders,” Sgt. Claude Denis of the SQ said.

Advertisment

Officers were sent to the Opitciwan First Nation because the community declined to take advantage of a clause in the police act that allows aboriginal forces to continue operating while negotiations to renew the police funding agreement are ongoing.

That meant the local police force’s operations were suspended.

“Nothing has changed for the other communities covered by the agreement,” said Clément Falardeau, a spokesman for Quebec’s public security minister, Stéphane Bergeron.

But Opitciwan band council chief Christian Awashish says the clause would have forced his band council to pay their officers out of pocket until a new deal is signed.

“We just don’t have the money for that,” Awashish told The Gazette. “Our resources are stretched way too thin as it is, our police force is already operating at a deficit, we can’t afford to fund it while we wait for Quebec to make a move.”

Although Opitciwan is a territory of about 2,100 residents, Awashish reckons the level of crime in his community befits a city of 30,000. Local cops handle more than 2,200 cases each year, the vast majority of which are violent crimes or drug-related interventions.

The reserve has been hit hard by a steep decline in logging in the Haute Mauricie region, where thousands of jobs rely on the forestry sector. Unemployment rates as high as 50 per cent in Opitciwan are only made worse by a housing crisis that forces families to crowd together in shacks. Awashish characterizes the overcrowding, poverty and high rates of substance abuse as a very dangerous cocktail for his people.

“Last month, there was a week where our officers had to testify in court 21 times,” said Randy Weizineau, spokesman for the Opitciwan police. “It isn’t like they can just pop into court and be done with it. The courthouse is 300 kilometres off-reserve. That takes our people out of commission for an entire shift.”

Weizineau, a former police sergeant, said the SQ has been struggling to keep up with the workload. Because 90 per cent of the townspeople have Atikamekw as their mother tongue, there has been a significant language and cultural barrier to deal with.

“There was one particular domestic dispute that was devolving rapidly,” Weizineau said. “So I had to accompany police on the call and act as a translator.”

SQ agents are living in trailers and in homes on the aboriginal territory. It’s likely they’ll be on-site until a new policing deal is reached.

The provincial and federal governments were set to renew a deal to finance the aboriginal police forces this month, but negotiations fell apart at the 11th hour, First Nations leaders claim.

Last week, Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations, told The Gazette that Ottawa was to blame for the delay in renewing the policing agreement because it wanted the communities to submit action plans for policing before signing off on the agreement.

However, a spokesperson for Public Security Minister Vic Toews said Tuesday that “the federal government does not require First Nation and Inuit communities to generate action plans to access funding.”

Toews’s spokesperson refused to answer The Gazette’s questions about why the funding agreement was allowed to lapse or when it could be renewed.

It costs about $60 million per year for the aboriginal reserves to police themselves – a bill split evenly between the federal and provincial governments. In all, about 250 police officers are affected by the agreement.

While Opitciwan receives about $2.2 million in funding each year, $600,000 of that amount is conditional on the reserve not calling the SQ to reinforce its police officers.

“It’s an impossible burden to place on us,” Weizineau said. “I remember one shift where I had to work for 36 consecutive hours because we were so poorly staffed. And they weren’t easy hours, we showed up at a house where someone we knew well had hanged himself. Imagine what that does to a person.”

Although the majority of Quebec’s First Nations reserves are covered by the deal, some territories are policed the Sûreté du Québec and others have their own arrangements with the federal government.

Talks between Ottawa and Quebec are ongoing, officials say.

(Montreal Gazette)


Print this page

Related

Tags



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*