By Lethbridge Herald on October 21, 2020.
The provincial government has tabled a bill which would formally recognize First Nations police services, and may open the door for longer-term funding arrangements and equal access to resources currently taken for granted by other municipal forces in Alberta.
Work began on formally recognizing First Nations police services in the province’s Police Act under former Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer, and that work was completed by current Minister of Justice Kaycee Madu on Wednesday with the formal tabling of Bill 38, the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, in the legislature.
“With this legislation, the Government of Alberta acknowledges the valuable role First Nations policing plays in keeping their communities safe. These changes will ensure First Nations police services and the communities they serve can benefit from our efforts to modernize policing in Alberta,” said Madu in a statement released to the media on Wednesday.
While the announcement was welcomed by the Blood Tribe Police Service, it also represented years of lobbying the province for this type of recognition, said Insp. Farica Prince of the BTPS in an interview with The Herald after the legislation was formally tabled at 3 p.m. Prince also hoped it would lead to longer-term funding changes so the force would not have to reapply for base program funding every five years, and would finally have access to the same resources as every other municipal police force in Alberta.
“The First Nation Policing Program was established in 1991 to improve the relationship between Indigenous communities and the police,” she said. “Since our creation, we have faced many inequities that have made it difficult to provide the community with the service they deserve and our employees with the support they need to be supported.
“We have not had access to the same resources or opportunities as our policing partners and we are significantly underfunded in comparison.
“Having recognition under the Alberta Police Act empowers us to govern ourselves and it will provide a sense of stability and security, to the hard-working people of our organization as well as to the community.”
Prince added that Bill 38 was just the first step in the process of creating that level of equity for First Nations police services in Alberta, and the BTPS was looking forward to having further conversations with Madu on the subject of stable and potentially increased funding for their service.
“Recognition under the Police Act will now allow us to be moved from a program funding model to an essential service funding model,” she explained. “Right now our funding model is considered a program which has to be renewed every one to five years, and the disadvantage that gives our organization and the community is (a lack) of that sense of stability and security. Imagine coming to work for how many years and not being fully assured if your organization is going to be funded for the following years?”
Prince also pointed out the BTPS and other tribal police services in Alberta are chronically underfunded.
“We are 25 to 30 per cent underfunded compared to our policing partners, which is a lot,” she said; “especially considering public safety does not cost less in Indigenous communities. And there is actually an argument it probably costs more.”
Prince acknowledged First Nations police services are generally funded almost 50/50 by the provincial and federal governments in Alberta, but she is encouraged by recent moves by the federal government to make First Nations policing an essential service in Canada, and to see the province following suit.
The Herald asked Minister Madu’s office for comment on whether or not Wednesday’s announcement would mean a longer term or increased financial funding to First Nations policing on the part of the provincial government following this recognition under the Police Act.
“These amendments don’t change the structure or term of the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP) agreements,” the Minister’s office responded in a emailed statement, “which split funding for eligible communities between the federal government (52 per cent) and the provincial government (48 per cent). As well, the changes don’t create any additional responsibilities for First Nations police services — this is about formally recognizing the work they have done for many years.”
“The structure of the FNPP is determined by the federal government,” it added. “However, the provincial government recognizes the funding pressures faced by Alberta’s three self-administered First Nations police services, including the Blood Tribe Police Service. This year, the self-administered police services will receive a total of $900,000 in additional provincial funding on top of the Government of Alberta’s 48 per cent contribution to the FNPP.”
“Recognizing First Nations police services in the Police Act ensures they will be included in our efforts to modernize policing in Alberta and benefit from future changes to legislation,” the statement concluded. “Indigenous stakeholders are participating in discussions taking place this fall and we value their contributions. What we hear from stakeholders — including Indigenous communities — will help determine what steps we take to update the Police Act, but those conversations are still taking place and we can’t make any assumptions about the outcome.”
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