Defunded from day one: Part I of a series

Terry McCaffrey

Wiiky Tribal Police Chief McCaffrey shares concerns with MPs

EDITOR’S NOTE: Amidst growing discussions of systemic racism in governance models and policing more specifically, The Manitoulin Expositor will be speaking with First Nation police leadership who have connections to the Island’s two First Nation police services, as well as experts who can help explore the ongoing gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous police forces.

OTTAWA – Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service (WTPS) Police Chief Terry McCaffrey, who is also president of Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario (IPCO), spoke virtually at the federal standing committee on public safety and national security this past Thursday to share insights into how Indigenous police forces continue to perform meaningful work for their communities despite funding and legislative gaps existing in their models.

“I think our message is very clear, that Indigenous policing is an important model and one that needs to be enhanced so that we can provide even better services to the communities we serve,” Mr. McCaffrey told The Expositor following his July 23 delegation.

Protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism in particular have emerged across North America in the past two months following the death of George Floyd, a man who joined the list of Black people killed in police custody.

Chief among the protesters’ demands is the defunding or restructuring of police services—taking away some of the billions of dollars allocated to police forces and redirecting those funds into preventative and community support services such as adequate, affordable housing, education and non-weaponized community safety initiatives.

Indigenous police forces in Canada, however, have been defunded since their inception in the late 20th century, said Mr. McCaffrey, highlighting a long list of discrepancies that exist between those services and conventional policing in the country.

IPCO is an association made up of nine Indigenous police forces across Ontario, including Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service, Anishinabek Police Service, Lac Seul Police Service, Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, Rama Police Service, Six Nations Police Service, Treaty Three Police Service and, on Manitoulin Island, UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service and WTPS.

One thing each of the above forces have in common, besides being run by and serving Indigenous peoples, is none of them has essential service status—a key barrier to their effectiveness, their reach and ability to create an equally safe environment for the communities they serve.

Indigenous police services in Canada are enabled through the First Nations Policing Program, which defines them as ‘programs’ rather than full, essential services.

This has many implications including on the level of funding they receive, the initiatives that First Nation police forces can and cannot run and limits to their powers and abilities.

“Our officers do the same job (as colonial police) and, in some cases, a much more challenging job with having to work with underfunding and underresourcing. It was only a couple of years ago that we received pay parity, and that didn’t come because it was the right thing to do; it came because we filed equal rights complaints. Now we’re back to the table once again to another rights tribunal to receive pension parity,” said Mr. McCaffrey.

Officers with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) work under an ’80 factor;’ that is, when their age and years of service collectively equal 80, they can retire. First Nation officers have a 90 factor, meaning an extra 10 years of work—officers cannot typically fully retire until the age of 65.

“Things like these are why IPCO was born. This is why we band together,” said Mr. McCaffrey. “We have a very clear mission statement to ensure equity across communities and services and we continue to fight and push toward essential service status.”

Mr. McCaffrey spoke at the house of commons standing committee on behalf of IPCO and explained to the delegates what constraints First Nation police services face under the present model.

There has been some recent progress on this file. Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced in June that First Nation policing would become an essential service and the public safety standing committee has begun to study the issue of systemic racism in policing in Canada.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police commissioner Brenda Lucki notably denied the existence of systemic racism in police forces when pressed on the topic following the start of the George Floyd solidarity protests and after that force’s officers violently arrested a First Nation chief in Alberta.

Two days later, Ms. Lucki reversed her position and acknowledged the existence of systemic racism within the structure of the Mounties (which began life partly as a force to quell Indigenous dissent that would have hindered Canada’s westward colonial expansion).

“The fact that we’re there now having these talks, speaking about systemic racism in policing, points to the fact that it’s there. There is a significant amount of systemic racism through policing that needs to be addressed,” said Mr. McCaffrey.

Indigenous police forces get 52 percent of their funding from federal sources and the balance from their respective province. Mr. McCaffrey said First Nation police services get a single pot of money to run their operations, based on a simple ‘pop per cop’ formula—number of civilians per officer.

“What that doesn’t take into account is most Indigenous communities are at the highest levels of the crime severity index. When you’re looking at the amount and type of work we’re doing, there’s very much a need for specialized-type services,” he said.

The outcome of this is First Nation police services tend to operate in very limited capacities that do not include dedicated service units for important topics such as drugs, intelligence gathering and domestic violence. For these, Indigenous police have to call on colonial counterparts such as OPP.

“We don’t call on OPP unless something really bad happens (and we need) specialized services. A lot of municipal forces will call them as well because they don’t have the resources, but there’s certain areas where I could easily put together business cases; for example, for the need to have a two-person domestic violence team in this office,” said Mr. McCaffrey.

Despite the many challenges to parity in First Nation policing, he said he was encouraged by the committee and new collaborations to discuss the issue but cautioned that discussions are only one part of the process.

“What I will say about that is there are … shelves of these reports that keep saying the same thing. And there’s going to be a number of recommendations coming out of this saying the same things those said. The time for standing committees and reporting and seeking information is over. Now is the time for us to put into action the things we know we need to do to remove the systemic issues and to look at real meaningful reform in policing,” said Mr. McCaffrey.