First Nations policing program 'not working as intended': auditor general report



First Nations policing program 'not working as intended': auditor general

Ottawa has invested approximately $1.7 billion into the program from 1991 until 2012-13

The Canadian Press Posted: May 06, 2014 11:17 AM ET Last Updated: May 06, 2014 6:27 PM ET

The federal government pays about half the cost of policing for close to 400 First Nations and Inuit communities across Canada. The First Nations Policing Program, which started in 1991, covers the cost of about 1,250 officers, who serve more than 338,000 people.

The federal government pays about half the cost of policing for close to 400 First Nations and Inuit communities across Canada. The First Nations Policing Program, which started in 1991, covers the cost of about 1,250 officers, who serve more than 338,000 people. (Troy Fleece/Canadian Press)

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The federal First Nations policing program is bedevilled by poor allocation of money, shoddy buildings and lack of transparency,according to Auditor General Michael Ferguson.

"The program is not working as intended. We found the program is sometimes used to replace core services normally provided by the provinces," said Ferguson.

"We also noted in Ontario, the program does not ensure that policing services on First Nations reserves meet the standards that apply to police service elsewhere in the province."

"The inevitable conclusion of the auditor general's report is that First Nation communities in Ontario do not receive the same level of policing that rest of the province does," said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, in a news release issued by the two largest First Nation police services in Ontario.



Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said that the report confirms that "First Nation communities in Ontario do not receive the same level of policing that rest of the province does." (Jody Porter/CBC)

"This report shows that First Nations have been set up for failure and the federal approach to First Nation policing is seriously flawed."  

The policing program, created in 1991 to address concerns about policing in aboriginal communities, involves negotiation and funding of agreements between the federal government, provincial or territorial governments, and First Nations and Inuit settlements.

Federal expenditures for the program totalled about $1.7 billion through 2012-13. At last count, 442 of the 593 First Nations communities across Canada were receiving services from one or more agreements funded by the program.

The program is intended to provide these communities with policing services other than those the province covers. Auditors from Ferguson's office surveyed 10 First Nations chiefs with self-administered policing services, with five saying their services had replaced the provincial policing in their communities.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson found that Public Safety Canada, the department responsible for the First Nations policing program, lacks reasonable assurance that facilities in First Nations communities are adequate. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Public Safety Canada, the department responsible for the program, lacks reasonable assurance that policing facilities in First Nations communities are adequate, the report says.

Ferguson found the department does not systematically collect information about whether facilities maintained by First Nations comply with federal building and fire codes, or applicable provincial standards.

In visiting six fly-in communities in Ontario, auditors observed instances in which officers were living in houses "that were crowded, contained mould, and were in a state of disrepair."

Other problems included holding cells that were too small, unfinished construction and a lack of reception and community meeting rooms.

Doug Palson is the chief of the Dakota Ojibway Police Service, which has detachments in six Manitoba communities. 

"We did have a detachment which was essentially condemned, and we were able to work with the community,  the provincial and federal government to secure enough funding to actually renovate another building for adequate detachment and properly designed holding cells, and that made a huge huge difference," Palson said.

Public Safety's practices for assessing applicants to the program, selecting recipients and allocating money were not transparent, the report says. In addition, assessments and selection decisions were not adequately documented, meaning they could be considered arbitrary.

Ferguson also found First Nations were not meaningfully included in the negotiation of agreements. For seven of nine new or renewed policing agreements examined, there was no documented evidence of the nature and extend of input by aboriginal communities.

Thirty agreement-holders had less than one month's notice to complete negotiations of agreements that were slated to expire March 31 of last year, the auditors noted.

Palson agrees with the auditor general that First Nations don't have adequate input when it comes to negotiating policing agreements.  He said it's hard to run a department with short-term funding agreements.

"We're always struggling with funding levels, adequate funding. We have to ensure we can get sustained funding for the future so we can stay competitive in areas of salary, etc."

Ferguson also found that certain elements of the federal First Nations Policing policy principles were not fully incorporated into agreements, and that Public Safety did not measure and report on whether the program's objectives were being achieved.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney agrees with Ferguson's recommendations, but said the program is working.

"[The program] has had a measurable and positive impact on safety and security of First Nation and Inuit communities, and that's why in March 2013 our government committed $612.4 million in funding over five years for stable, sure and durable funding."

The Assembly of First Nations also expressed support for the recommendations today. In a news release Regional Chief Cameron Alexis underlined the importance of addressing the gaps in the policing program in consultation with First Nations.



Ottawa wants to offload legal responsibility for native police program

GLORIA GALLOWAY - OTTAWA - The Globe and Mail - Published May. 08 2014

The federal Conservative government is pressing First Nations to absolve Ottawa of its responsibility for policing on reserves, even as native leaders say people's lives are in jeopardy because their forces are so poorly funded and equipped.

The funding and the liabilities of the on-reserve police program have always been the shared responsibility of the federal government, the provinces and the First Nations.

But chiefs say the new tactic would leave First Nations on the hook for the fallout of police systems in which underpaid officers work alone in life-threatening situations, often without required equipment such as radios, and where decrepit police stations lack the most basic of amenities.

Over the past several months, in advance of an Auditor-General's report on the First Nations Policing Program that was released this week, the government sent funding agreements to those First Nations that have their own police forces. Documents related to the agreements and correspondence between the First Nations and federal authorities were obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The agreements, which were drawn without the input of the First Nations, include a clause relieving Canada of responsibility for policing in the native communities. They also say the First Nations are obligated to meet "the standards expected from a police service" or the funding agreements could be terminated.

But First Nations leaders have been saying for many years that the quality of police services on reserves is significantly inferior to that in the rest of Canada .

Despite their misgivings, some native leaders have signed the agreements to meet their police payrolls. First Nations that refused saw their federal funding cut off at the end of March.

The discussion around policing follows RCMP revelations last week that police had compiled nearly 1,200 cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada over the past 30 years - a number that is three to four times higher than their average representation in the country.

"All our families, women, young girls, deserve to live in a safe home in a safe community. They need to feel safe wherever they are," Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), an organization representing 49 First Nation communities in Northern Ontario, told a news conference Wednesday. Because of the state of the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, Mr. Fiddler said, "we cannot guarantee their safety."

That is why, he said, NAN's Grand Chief Harvey Yesno wrote a public safety notice to the chief coroner for Ontario in February, 2013, saying his people were in jeopardy because of chronic underfunding to local law enforcement.

That notice, which was also sent to former public safety minister Vic Toews, pointed to the case of a 24-year-old woman on the Kasabonika Reserve who died by suicide in the back of a police truck where she was being detained because the community police detachment had no heat.

The notice was resent this year to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney. But Mr. Fiddler says the minister has never responded or agreed to talk with the chiefs about policing on reserves.

The minister's office did not respond to questions on Wednesday - the day after the federal Auditor-General's report said his department does not have reasonable assurance that policing facilities in First Nations communities are adequate.

A lawyer who works for two of the indigenous forces says the government may be trying to end its funding of the First Nations Policing Program.

"If it's true that the federal government has no legal responsibility for aboriginal policing, it follows that, down the road, all funding could be withdrawn by the federal government without recourse," said Julian Falconer, who represents the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service and the Anishinabek Police Service.

At his recommendation, neither of the forces have signed the agreements presented to them by the government.

Federal negotiator Shammi Sandhu suggested in an e-mail in January that NAN's unwillingness to co-operate would "likely jeopardize" the construction of a police station on the Eabamatopong First Nation, a community of about 1,300 that had been waiting for a detachment for more than 10 years.

Mr. Falconer said the federal government backed down on that threat under pressure from Ontario.