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Chaining of detainees sparks blame game

Toews, Swan trade accusations over native policing

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OTTAWA -- The federal and provincial governments blamed each other Wednesday after a northern aboriginal community said it was forced to craft a makeshift jail out of a hockey arena dressing room.

On Tuesday, Northlands First Nation Chief Joe Antsanen released photographs of a resident chained to a locker-room floor. Since June, four residents were detained on separate occasions, usually for public drunkenness.

Under an agreement with the RCMP, band constables who complete a federally sanctioned training program can access RCMP facilities on reserves, including jail cells, when RCMP are not there. But in June, one of the two constables in Northlands returned to school and the other quit. As a result, the RCMP no longer have anyone in Northlands who has the proper training to access the jail. RCMP are not there full time.

"If someone is causing a disturbance, what do you do?" Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper asked.

He said the band turned to the locker-room solution because it has secure locks. However, the makeshift solution is not a good one, he said.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said it was up to the province to respond.

Generally, policing is a provincial responsibility but the federal and provincial governments share responsibility for policing on reserves. The cost of the First Nations Policing Program is split 50-50. Ottawa spends about $120 million a year on the program. In 2012/13, the budget for the program in Manitoba was about $9 million.

The funds provide policing needs on Manitoba reserves. On the 30 reserves in northern Manitoba, the RCMP is tasked with providing coverage. Only about half of the communities have a constant police presence either on the reserve or in a nearby community.

Ottawa also funds the band constable program, which trains and pays for band constables whose role is to uphold band bylaws. Criminal laws are to be handled by police.

Toews said the band constables are not supposed to detain anyone, adding it would be a liability issue if RCMP facilities were used when Mounties aren't around. "We don't train First Nation band constables for detention. That's outside their scope," he said.

However, the RCMP confirmed Wednesday it does have a memorandum of understanding with First Nations that allows band constables access to RCMP facilities, including holding cells, if the constables have completed the federal band constable training program.

Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan said band constables have the power of a citizen's arrest, and called Toews's suggestion they can't detain anyone as a "red herring."

Swan also said Ottawa has had an arrangement with the University College of the North since 2008 to conduct three-week band constable training programs. However, the training sessions have only been held three times and the last one was held in 2010, he said.

Toews's director of communications, Julie Carmichael, said the allegation the band constable funding hasn't been provided since 2010 is "patently false." Public Safety issued $43,000 to Northlands for band constables in 2011/12 and has provided $24,000 so far this year. A final payment is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Swan said it's Ottawa that is not telling the whole truth.

"I can tell you any money for band constables from Ottawa since 2010 has nothing to do with training," Swan said.

He said the short-term solution for Northlands is to find a band constable with the appropriate training willing to take on the role of jailer, but Ottawa needs to immediately train more band constables.

In the long term, the federal government must bolster funding for reserve policing, noting funding has been frozen since 2007.

Harper said the solution is to train First Nations constables to become full-fledged police officers. He said he has been working with the Winnipeg Police Service to develop a training program but the province won't pony up $2 million.

Swan said Ottawa must cost-share the program.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2012 A7

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