Northern Ontario Indigenous policing services are facing a critical funding shortage that could deplete their community resources within a month if ongoing negotiations with the federal government remain deadlocked. The Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario (IPCO) and other governing bodies overseeing these services argue that the negotiations with Public Safety Canada lack sincerity and are based on a funding system that discriminates against Indigenous people.
The funding deadlock revolves around the management of finances through the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP), a federal and provincial cost-sharing initiative that has facilitated the establishment of nearly 40 Indigenous police forces across Canada over the past three decades.
Currently, three police services, namely the Treaty Three Police Service, the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service, and the Anishinabek Police Service, lack funding. These services collectively serve 45 First Nations communities with a total population of approximately 30,000 individuals. Their funding expired on March 31, and they have been operating using community funds since then.
In response to the impasse, the Anishinabek Nation, representing over 30 Ontario First Nations, declared a state of emergency in affected communities on June 8. This followed similar emergency declarations by the Grand Council Treaty Three, representing 28 First Nations in Northwestern Ontario, and the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising, an Anishinaabe community justice program in M'Chigeeng on Manitoulin Island, which declared a state of emergency on May 24 and May 31, respectively.
All parties involved assert that the federal government is employing oppressive and unacceptable bargaining tactics. The United Chiefs and Council of Mnidoo Mnising's emergency declaration alleges that government officials are intentionally allowing FNIPP funding agreements to lapse to coerce Indigenous communities into accepting discriminatory terms set by Canada.
Under the FNIPP, funding is provided through two mechanisms: Community Tripartite agreements (CTAs), where the RCMP offers policing services to a community, or self-administered police service agreements (SAs), where a First Nation or Inuit community manages its own police service in accordance with provincial policing legislation. The funding is shared between the federal government (52%) and the province (48%) and is jointly administered by Public Safety Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General.
Unlike non-Indigenous communities in Canada, where policing is considered an essential service, funding agreements under the FNIPP are negotiated between Public Safety Canada, the province, and the First Nations. Additionally, Indigenous police forces operate on fixed-term government grants that require regular renegotiation.
To address the funding crisis, the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario (IPCO) drafted a motion in early May, seeking interim relief under the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA). IPCO represents nine SA First Nation Police Services in Ontario, including the three affected services, and claims that Section 5 of the CHRA is being violated through discriminatory provision of services.
The motion calls on Public Safety Canada, the respondent, to reinstate funding for the three First Nations police services whose funding expired on March 31 and to suspend the effect of Section 6 of the FNIPP. Moreover, it seeks relief from compliance with this section for all First Nations police services represented by IPCO. Section 6 outlines the terms and conditions of the funding, including provisions that disqualify certain expenses unique to First Nations and Inuit police services. These provisions restrict Indigenous police services from accessing specialized services like canine units or emergency response teams, as well as costs associated with loans and legal advice. IPCO's motion argues that these restrictions prevent First Nation police services from owning infrastructure, such as police detachments, and recovering expenses related to legal advice during FNIPP negotiations.
The legal actions brought forward by the First Nation police forces highlight their perception of the government's bargaining tactics
The Indigenous police services in Northern Ontario are facing a funding crisis that has garnered attention due to its discriminatory nature. Under the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program, a section called Section 6 prohibits Indigenous police services from having specialized services such as canine units or emergency personnel. This limitation hinders their ability to respond effectively to various situations. The Indigenous police chiefs and political bodies overseeing these services have repeatedly tried to negotiate for increased funding without the restrictions of Section 6 but claim that the government is negotiating in bad faith.
The three police services currently without funding, namely the Treaty Three Police Service, UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service, and Anishinabek Police Service, have been operating using community funds since their funding expired. However, these community funds are running out, leading to concerns about their ability to maintain community safety. The government of Ontario has stated that they do not have additional funding available for this specialized program and cannot allocate funds from other sources since the contracts have already expired. This impasse has prompted the Indigenous police chiefs of Ontario to file a claim under the Canadian Human Rights Act, seeking interim financing and addressing what they perceive as racist treatment in the funding system.
Unfortunately, there have been no significant signs of progress in the negotiations or actions taken to address the funding crisis. The Indigenous police chiefs and Public Safety Canada remain in a stalemate, awaiting a decision from the judge regarding the claim filed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The outcome of this decision may potentially lead to further negotiations or actions to resolve the funding crisis.