A First Nations community in northern Ontario is marching on with a human rights complaint regarding what it sees as inadequate funding for its police force, despite a recent pledge from the federal government to infuse the program with new money.
The Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven First Nation communities covering a large area in northern Ontario, argues it receives lower-quality police services and facilities than non-Indigenous communities.
It launched a complaint after two men who were being held for intoxication burned to death at a police detachment on Kashechewan First Nation more than a decade ago.
The council’s case lingers at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. While less formal than a court of law, the tribunal legally decides whether a person or organization has engaged in a discriminatory practice under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
This week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced his department will spend up to $291 million over the next five years on policing in First Nations and Inuit communities to help improve salaries, hire new officers and buy new equipment.
Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon applauded the announcement, but said he has no plans to discontinue the case.
“We are committed to securing a binding legal guarantee of adequate police resources,” said Solomon.
“Two young men died in a tragic police station fire in my community because of underfunding of our police. This must not happen again.”
Ontario waiting for more details
Through the First Nations policing program, the federal government pays about half the cost of policing for about 450 communities representing more than 420,000 Canadians, including many remote and fly-in-only areas.
On Wednesday, Goodale said he hoped the provinces and territories would also increase their contributions.
In a statement Thursday night, Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Marie France Lalonde said while she’s pleased to see the added funding, the province is still waiting for more details.
“We await further details and are committed to working together to address the complex challenges that exist in the realm of policing for First Nation people in Ontario,” she said.
Aside from the Mushkegowuk Council’s case, the federal government is facing four other cases related to the First Nations policing program:
- The Mashteuiatsh First Nation in Quebec has filed both a Canadian Human Rights Commission and Superior Court of Quebec claim. According to a government document obtained by CBC News, that human rights complaint has been referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
- The Naskapis Nation, in northeastern Quebec, has gone through Quebec Superior Court to argue both the federal and provincial governments have failed to negotiate in good faith.
- And the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation in Saskatchewan has ongoing litigation alleging the RCMP has failed to fulfil its obligation, but it hasn’t done anything since 2015 to continue the proceedings, said Public Safety.
Only Mushkegowuk Council responded to a CBC request for comment on the status of its case.