First Nations police frustrated by lack of detail on new, adequate funding

First Nations police chiefs say they are frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of progress on a key issue they've been pressing the federal government on for some time.

Indigenous police forces across Canada have complained for years about receiving inadequate funds to hire and train officers and supply them with the equipment they need to do their work.

Ottawa has pledged to overhaul its First Nations Policing Program, which helps pay for policing in more than 450 communities. The goal is to have that done by next year.

But First Nations police chiefs who gathered in Niagara Falls, Ont., for their annual conference this week say, after hearing from federal officials, that they're worried the government will miss that deadline and leave their forces once again scrambling for cash.

Dwayne Zacharie, chief peacekeeper in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake and president of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association, says representatives from Public Safety Canada who were supposed to provide an update to the chiefs at their meeting could offer no details or timeline for a new plan.

"We were in shock," Zacharie said in an interview with CBC News.

"We had been waiting on this for a long time. We had been talking about this for what seems like forever.… and at this point, we don't know anything."

Zacharie said the funding issue was the first item on the agenda at the chiefs' meeting and the lack of clarity from federal officials was troubling.

"We're scratching by right now," Zacharie said. "A lot of places don't have the proper infrastructure. We need to continue to get our members the proper training. We're all short-handed."

Inadequate budgets

The government has conducted extensive consultations as it seeks to renew the First Nations Policing Program, holding meetings with police across the country and carrying out an online survey.

Public Safety documents obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act show that federal officials have received a steady stream of complaints. 

"Funding was consistently characterized as inadequate," reads one report summarizing part of the government's fact-finding efforts.

"While policing needs have risen in many Indigenous communities in recent years, there has not been an increase in funding. All participants agreed that Indigenous police forces are operating with inadequate budgets and resources."

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale last year promised an overhaul of the First Nations Policing Program and has personally taken part in some of the government's consultations with police.

A spokesperson for Goodale said yesterday the government fully intends to have a new plan in place by next year that will provide Indigenous communities with "high-quality service that is culturally appropriate."

Goodale's office also pointed out the government earmarked $102 million over five years in its most recent budget to address the immediate needs of Indigenous police forces.

A lingering issue

Zacharie said First Nations police chiefs still have questions about where that money will go and whether more will be forthcoming. For now, he said, police and federal officials have agreed to stay in touch.  

"We've been working with them in good faith and we want to continue that and we want to have a good relationship," Zacharie said.

"But at the same time we want to be able to provide our people and our communities with the most effective and most efficient police service possible."

Concerns about funding for First Nations police services predate the Liberal government.

Canada's auditor general visited 16 First Nations communities in 2014 and found police services lacking. The auditor's report found Ottawa's funding model for police services was not working as intended. 

The issue was also raised during an inquest into the 2013 death of a woman in Kasabonika Lake First Nation in northern Ontario. The woman took her life in the back of a police truck. She was confined there because officers from the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service had no holding cell in which to place her.