Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told First Nation chiefs today that his government will soon introduce legislation to make policing in their communities an essential service.
Trudeau’s comments come one year after he tasked Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller with co-developing a legislative framework for First Nations policing.
“We will accelerate work on First Nations policing, including legislating it as an essential service, while expanding the number of communities served and supporting community safety and well-being projects,” Trudeau said.
First Nations leaders been calling on the federal government to declare policing in their communities an essential service.
Public Safety Canada currently splits the funding for police services in First Nations and Inuit communities with the provinces and territories through the First Nations policing program.
The program serves approximately 60 per cent of First Nation and Inuit communities, says Public Safety.
In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Public Safety Canada provided more than $146 million under the program to support 1,322 police officer positions in over 450 First Nation and Inuit communities, but Indigenous leaders say the funding is inconsistent and not enough to provide necessary services.
The First Nations Policing Program was created in the early 1990s to improve policing services on reserves and in Inuit communities.
National chief calls for RCMP reform
In his last speech to a winter general assembly, National Chief Perry Bellegarde today raised policing issues but focused on the need to reform the RCMP.
“We are calling for action to actively and aggressively eliminate racism and discrimination in every aspect of the RCMP from recruitment to training to operations,” Bellegarde said.
“At this point, the need could not be more clear.”
Bellegarde pointed to the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, who were killed in police encounters in New Brunswick last June.
Moore was shot and killed by Edmundston Police and Levi was fatally shot by an RCMP officer.
In his speech to the Assembly of First Nations, Trudeau also promised to speed up work on a national action plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and finish lifting long-term drinking water advisories.
Trudeau said his government has so far lifted 98 long-term drinking water advisories and prevented 171 short-term advisories from becoming long-term.
In last week’s fiscal update, the Liberals pledged to spend more than $1.5 billion to lift the remaining 58 long-term drinking water advisories.
The federal government also earmarked $781.5 million over five years to combat violence against Indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ and two-spirit people, and $106.3 million every year after that.
Trudeau was pressed by one chief to change the way Ottawa distributes its funding.
“No matter how much money you put in, it’s going into the department of Indian Affairs,” said Chief Reg Bellerose of Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan during a Q&A session with Trudeau.
“I think at some point you’re going to have to fix that broken system that is bureaucratic to ensure that the benefits are reaching where they are needed.”
Trudeau responded by describing the goal of reconciliation as self-determination.
“I understand Indigenous Services and Crown-Indigenous Relations are big machines,” Trudeau said. “But everyone is working extremely hard to get beyond the Indian Act, to get to a place where you are in control of your own finances, and communities and nations get to direct their own futures.”