An effort to set up a mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous police station in Val-d'Or is facing intense opposition from the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL).
Quebec's provincial police force announced the one-year pilot project last November, in the wake of complaints of abuse and racism in the town, 400 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
The plan was to have the police station operating by this spring, with eight Indigenous and eight non-Indigenous officers.
However, now the Sûreté du Québec will not say when the station will open.
AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard said he doesn't believe the SQ has been able to attract any Indigenous officers.
"The intention of having a mixed police station, it's going nowhere. It's not working," he said.
'We cannot allocate police officers we don't have'
Picard questioned how the provincial government was able to find funding for the pilot project when First Nations police forces are having such trouble securing steady financing.
He said the SQ is competing with Aboriginal police forces for a limited number of qualified Indigenous officers, and community-based First Nations police services can't spare the ones they have.
"Just because it is an Indigenous police force does not mean it's not an essential service," Picard said.
The Sûreté du Québec, which has 65 Indigenous officers within its ranks, approached the Wendake police service for help filling the Val-d'Or positions.
Daniel Langlais, the head of the Wendake force, which operates within the limits of Quebec City, refused a request to lend officers to the provincial police for the one-year project.
The idea sounds good at first glance, Langlais said, but recruitment is already a challenge for his own force.
"Our resources are very, very limited," he said.
"We cannot allocate police officers we don't have."
SQ should have consulted chiefs, Picard says
Picard recently met the police chiefs of 15 Aboriginal forces, and he said none of them are backing the Val d'Or project.
"We have police chiefs who are responsible people. Why would I commit resources elsewhere when I don't have enough at home?" he said.
In a letter to the public security minister last month, Picard condemned the Sûreté du Québec's "odious" attempt to draw officers from the ranks of Aboriginal forces.
He told the minister that his organization had been "greatly surprised" by last November's announcement.
"No consultations, not even discussions, had taken place with First Nations beforehand," he wrote.
Picard had expressed reticence about the project when it was originally announced.
In a March 7 letter, he stated categorically, his organization "cannot support the initiative."
Picard said he had repeatedly told the provincial police about his concerns.
"Quebec is putting on blinders," he said.
"Why does Quebec insist on this effort that obviously does not have the necessary support of our communities?"
The provincial police would not comment on the status of its initiative.
When the Sûreté du Québec's director general, Martin Prud'homme, announced the plan, he said it would build bridges with the Aboriginal community.