Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told First Nation chiefs on Tuesday that his government will soon introduce legislation to make policing in their communities an essential service.
Trudeau did not outline a timeline for the legislation, which could still be months away from tabling in the House of Commons.
“We will accelerate work on First Nations policing, including legislating it as an essential service, while expanding the number of communities served and supporting community safety and well-being projects,” he said.
WATCH | First Nations policing to be ‘essential service’:
The prime minister’s comments come one year after he tasked Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller with co-developing a legislative framework for First Nations policing.
In conjunction with Trudeau’s pledge, Blair said late Tuesday that the government is giving the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) up to $1.5 million to start co-developing the legislation with the federal government.
“As an essential service, it has to be adequately resourced,” Blair told the AFN chiefs.
“When we compare the resources available to those police officers, how much those officers are paid, their equipment, the facilities that they work from, even the vehicles that they drive, there is in my opinion a great disparity.”
First Nations leaders have been calling on the federal government to declare policing in their communities an essential service.
Public Safety Canada currently splits the funding for police services in First Nations and Inuit communities with the provinces and territories through the First Nations Policing Program.
The program serves approximately 60 per cent of First Nations and Inuit communities, says Public Safety.
In the 2018-19 fiscal year, Public Safety Canada provided more than $146 million under the program to support 1,322 police officer positions in over 450 First Nations and Inuit communities, but Indigenous leaders say the funding is inconsistent and not enough to provide necessary services.
The First Nations Policing Program was created in 1991 to improve policing services on reserves and in Inuit communities.
Blair said he will be asking for more money in next spring’s federal budget to finish the legislation’s co-development.
Calls for RCMP reform
In his last speech to a winter general assembly, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde on Tuesday raised policing issues but also focused on the need to reform the RCMP.
“We are calling for action to actively and aggressively eliminate racism and discrimination in every aspect of the RCMP from recruitment to training to operations,” Bellegarde said.
“At this point, the need could not be more clear.”
Bellegarde pointed to the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, who were killed in police encounters in New Brunswick last June.
In his speech to the AFN, Trudeau also promised to speed up work on a national action plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and finish lifting long-term drinking water advisories.
Trudeau said his government has so far lifted 98 long-term drinking water advisories and prevented 171 short-term advisories from becoming long-term.
In last week’s fiscal update, the Liberals pledged to spend more than $1.5 billion to lift the remaining 58 long-term drinking water advisories.
The federal government also earmarked $781.5 million over five years to combat violence against Indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ and two-spirit people, and $106.3 million every year after that.
Trudeau was pressed by one chief to change the way Ottawa distributes its funding.
“I think at some point, you’re going to have to fix that broken system that is bureaucratic to ensure that the benefits are reaching where they are needed.”
Trudeau responded by describing the goal of reconciliation as self-determination.
“I understand Indigenous Services and Crown-Indigenous Relations are big machines,” he said. “But everyone is working extremely hard to get beyond the Indian Act, to get to a place where you are in control of your own finances, and communities and nations get to direct their own futures.”