Manitoba wants more funding to boost policing for First Nations

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's attorney general says he will be pushing for more federal money to help bolster front-line First Nations policing on remote reserves.

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Gord Mackintosh says the previous Conservative government's decision to freeze the aboriginal policing budget for almost a decade before cancelling a band constable program was "horribly perverse."

"Federal government statistics show that northern Manitoba has about five times the crime rate as the south and indigenous Manitobans are nine times more likely to be victimized," Mackintosh told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

"That is not acceptable. First Nations deserve better."

Some 31 aboriginal communities across Manitoba relied on band constables before the program was terminated earlier this year.

Band constables were trained to federal policing standards but lived in the community. The indigenous offices could enforce band bylaws and were often first on the scene in an emergency before RCMP arrived.

The province has stepped in with its own version of the program, but First Nations say the new safety officers have fewer powers, don't have the same relationship with the RCMP and are poorly funded. At least one community said its officers have been reduced to driving detained people around in a pickup truck owned by the band.

Mackintosh said the reincarnation of the band constable will eventually be an improvement because the officers will be on solid legal footing. First Nations police will have a "close working relationship" with the RCMP and be able to enforce provincial statutes, he said.

Manitoba will be asking for much more support from the new Liberal government, he added.

"We are hoping for night and day when it comes to federal government approaches to First Nation policing. We are making it very clear to them that we expect to see a growth and new investment in First Nation policing."

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was unavailable for an interview. Department spokeswoman Mylene Croteau said in an email that the government will continue to fund the First Nations Policing Program which was established after the band constable program was ended.

Down the road, she said, the government will look at updating the program and its "financial sustainability."

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents northern First Nations, said funding is only part of the problem. Band constables have been demoted to "safety officers" who are simply "the eyes and ears of the RCMP," she suggested.

"They don't really have a lot of authority in detaining when they need to and arresting people when they need to for the safety of the community," said North Wilson, who heads Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

"They don't have the jurisdiction any more."

Joe Dantouze is a councillor with the Northlands Denesuline First Nation west of Churchill near the Saskatchewan border. He told Mounties at a recent Assembly of First Nations meeting that his band constables have no access to the RCMP detention block.

That means his officers have had to drive detained people around all night in a band pickup truck, he said.

"Band constables are potentially violating the Criminal Code every time they detain a person," North Wilson said. "If this was happening in urban and other rural communities ... this would not be acceptable to any municipality, so this is not acceptable for our First Nations as well."



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