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November 15, 2018 | Local, Security

Ottawa to spend $90M to build, repair First Nations police stations

Funding comes on top of $291M announced earlier this year to hire staff, buy equipment

Kathleen Harris · CBC News

The federal government will spend nearly $90 million to build and repair police stations in First Nation and Inuit communities.

The money is meant to address "pressing needs" in policing infrastructure by repairing, renovating or replacing facilities, many of them in remote or fly-in communities. The program, which is cost-shared with the provinces and territories, will help ensure policing infrastructure complies with current building, policing facility and health and safety standards.

The first two-year phase of the $88.6 million program will fund communities in need of urgent repairs, while a second phase will fund projects based on merit. The funding will roll out over seven years.

The federal government will launch a bidding process to assess First Nation and Inuit police service facilities, which will help guide the selection of phase two infrastructure projects.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the First Nations Policing Program serves about 400,000 people in 450 communities through "culturally relevant" policing.

"Building on our government's major investments in new officers, salaries and equipment, we are making new investments in policing facilities so officers can do their jobs properly and keep their communities safe," he said in a statement.

Indigenous forces complain of underfunding

The money announced today comes on top of the $291 million over five years Goodale announced earlier this year for First Nations policing operations. That announcement came after years of complaints and legal challenges from Indigenous police forces that claim they've been chronically underfunded.

At the time, Goodale said the figure nearly triples the basic amount earmarked in 2017, representing the largest federal financial commitment since 1991.

The money will go toward improving salaries, hiring new officers and buying new equipment. Some underfunded forces had been struggling to replace expired bulletproof vests and update officer training.

Kent Elson, a lawyer who has acted in cases involving policing in Indigenous communities, said the new funding represents "good progress" but doesn't go far enough to fix widespread problems. He said the funding ought to follow an essential service model based on need.

Deadly conditions

"If a police station is unsafe, then you have to replace it," he said. "You can't just put it on a waiting list and say, 'Sorry we're maxed out this year.'

"People have died and more would die if the stations are not adequate."

Elson said conditions have improved since a deadly fire at an isolated northern Ontario reserve's police station in 2006, but the inequities remain "stark."

Ricardo Wesley, 22, and James Goodwin, 20, burned to death on Jan. 8, 2006, while being held for public intoxication at the Kashechewan First Nation police detachment.

Community constable pilot

The RCMP has a special pilot program to address gaps in policing, including Indigenous communities, but a recent evaluation of that program found that it is not focused on its mandate.

The Community Constable pilot program currently has 19 armed, uniformed peace officers with local knowledge of the communities they serve, including their languages, cultures and geography.

While the program's mandate was to prevent crime through community engagement, the evaluation found that most of the constables weren't clear on the mandate, and participated in more enforcement activities than prevention activities.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Tania Vaughan said community constables are meant to enhance, not replace, existing RCMP services in a community.

"At this time, the community constable program remains a pilot program, and no final decision on its future has been made," she said in an email. "The purpose of the evaluation was to provide senior management with a neutral, timely and evidence-based assessment of the pilot program to help inform decision-making on its permanency. The RCMP is now better informed in order to enhance the CC Program, and make changes to it that will better serve our communities."

Vaughan said the RCMP is responding to the evaluation by responding to questions and concerns from the community constables and developing a clearly defined program mandate. It will also better track performance information and formalize the governance structure, roles and responsibilities.

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