By Shari Narine
Community safety on First Nations – and in the inner cities – is about more than Indigenous police officers.
“In my humble opinion we don’t have to get tough on crime, we have to get tough on poverty, we have to get tough on racism, we have to get tough for housing,” said Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill, who spoke passionately to chiefs at a mid-morning session July 14 on policing and public safety at the third and final day of the Assembly of First Nations’ annual general assembly.
Weighill, who also serves as president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said that the high numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls – as well as men and boys – pointed to a much larger, much deeper concern.
“I would suggest to you that past governments said this was a crime issue, and yes, it is a crime when somebody is missing or murdered, but I would also suggest to you that it is a systemic issue that is putting women in disadvantaged circumstances that are making them vulnerable and causing them to either be missing or murdered,” he said.
Weighill pledged that his association would cooperate fully with the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. He acknowledged that police would have be held accountable for how they investigated such cases and interacted with families, but he added that there have been many improvements over the years.
Weighill also said that the Youth Criminal Justice Act was a “great piece of legislation” but was failing because of the lack of resources. He said incarcerating young offenders was not the answer. He also said that once in prison, the lack of mental health services, training, education, and transitional programs led to repeat offenders.
British Columbia Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson, AFN portfolio holder for justice, offered alarming statistics covering 10 years beginning in 2005. In that time frame, the Aboriginal inmate population has increased by more than 50 per cent. Not only is an Indigenous person’s chances of being incarcerated 10 times higher than the national average for non-Indigenous adults, but those incarcerated are sentenced to longer terms; spend more time in segregation and in maximum security; are less likely to be granted parole; and are more likely to have parole revoked for minor issues.
“The practises and policies aimed at Indigenous people amount to systematic discrimination,” he said. “The disparity continues to grow.”
Gottfriedson referenced the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which set out 18 implementation recommendations, among those the need for Indigenous people to police themselves.
“We believe that we are an essential service in our communities,” said John Domm, president of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association, who noted that only 27 per cent of First Nation communities had their own police services.
Domm said the stand-alone services are struggling as they are under-resourced, under-staffed, have poor infrastructure, and cannot plan long term as funding is short term, unpredictable and insufficient.
“The tripartite nature of the self-administered agreements can be cumbersome, requiring all three parties to agree and come to the table with those required resources,” he said. Agreements are between the federal, provincial or territorial governments, and the First Nation.
Lori MacDonald, head of public safety for First Nation policing, with Public Safety Canada, said Minister Ralph Goodale was committed to the issue and wanted “to evolve First Nations policing and public safety issues to the next level.”
“We recognize very clearly that gaps exist, in some instances, very large gaps exist and we have to do more to address them,” she said.
Macdonald also agreed that more than changes in policing were needed to make safe communities.
“(We have to be) getting to a place in terms of addressing services in our communities, not just policing services but health services, education services, social services as an integrated fashion going forward,” she said.