‘Chronic underfunding’ of NAPS leaves communities at risk
The death of a 23-year-old Kasabonika woman while in police custody earlier this month has reignited concerns over the safety of First Nations residents on reserve and the adequacy of policing being provided in communities.
In a shot directed at limited funding for First Nations policing, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) has warned that both Ontario and Canada will be “legally and morally responsible” for future deaths caused by inadequate police resources.
In a confidential letter obtained by APTN, NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno notes that NAN communities have been put “in grave jeopardy” because of chronic underfunding of Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS).
“The lives of First Nations people living in these communities are being put at severe risk because both levels of government refuse to ensure that First Nations people in northern Ontario receive the same level of service as their non-native counterparts,” the letter states. “Simply put, accounting has put First Nation lives at risk.”
The letter, which was also signed by NAPS board chair Frank McKay, was sent to Ontario’s Chief Coroner Dan Cass along with federal and provincial ministers responsible for Aboriginal Affairs and public safety.
Ontario’s Chief Coroner will conduct an inquest into the death of a woman in Kasabonika Lake, who died on Feb. 1 while being detained in the back of a NAPS cruiser.
Kasabonika Chief Gordon Anderson told Wawatay News that the cruiser was being used as a holding cell since the community has not had a holding cell for over two years.
Kasabonika is not alone in needing new or upgraded NAPS detachments. NAN noted that out of seven communities designated to receive new modular NAPS units following the Kashechewan inquest of 2009, only one has received and installed the unit.
The Kashechewan inquest also found that 19 NAPS detachments did not meet national building codes.
Federal program expires
The issue of inadequate funding for NAPS could be exacerbated this spring, as the funding agreement between the federal and provincial governments and NAN expires March 31.
The last tripartite agreement between NAN, Canada and Ontario was signed on Apr. 1, 2009, and expired in 2012. That agreement was extended for one year, until March 31, 2013, but NAN noted in its letter that it has received no notice from either level of government on negotiating a new agreement.
“The Tripartite Agreement has no provision for a binding arbitration process,” the letter states. “As a result, there is no real form of negotiations. NAPS is forced to accept whatever funds are provided by the federal and provincial governments.”
Adding to NAPS struggles, the federal government announced last week it will not renew a police officer recruiting fund that, among other things, funded 11 NAPS officers working in northern First Nations through a $1 million agreement.
The president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, Stephen Tanner, told the National Post that the cuts to NAPS could result in additional strains on the Ontario Provincial Police.
“(NAPS) may have to withdraw their services from one or two small communities,” Tanner said. “If they have to do that, the OPP may be forced to go in to police those communities.”
Tanner said taking $1 million in funding from NAPS could actually cost over $2 million if the OPP has to take over.
“Fiscally, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
NAN noted that the loss of 11 NAPS officers will “significantly jeopardize the safety of NAN’s communities.”
The letter also pointed out that 18 percent of NAPS officers are off-duty at any one time due to vacation, stress-leave or other personal matters related to the challenges of policing in the north under strained resources.
“The safety of NAN communities has been put at risk for far too long,” the letter states. “Canada and Ontario have long been put on notice that these issues create real jeopardy to the safety of NAN communities. How many deaths must occur before both levels of government realize that NAPS cannot operate as a ‘straw man’.
“As things currently stand, NAPS has been setup to fail.”
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