Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chief pleads for permanent RCMP presence

Takes concerns to Ottawa after seeing no help from province, police

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OTTAWA -- The chief of a northern First Nation, left without policing most of the time, has asked Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to provide a permanent RCMP officer for his community.

Chief Joe Antsanen of Northlands Denesuline First Nation wrote to Toews on Oct. 18, saying neither the provincial government nor the RCMP has done anything to address the policing crisis in his community.

"The safety and security of the citizens of the Northlands Denesuline First Nation continue to be placed at unacceptable risk on a daily basis," said Antsanen in his letter.

Since July, the reserve has had no band constables with the training needed to allow them access to the RCMP detention centre in Lac Brochet, Northlands' largest community.

That forced Northlands to detain individuals at least four times during the summer, chaining them to a floor in a local hockey arena, because they couldn't put them in the RCMP holding cell.

Antsanen said requests to Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan for a permanent RCMP officer have not been met, so he's turning to Toews.

"Winter is coming, and the worst time is the winter," said Antsanen. When the temperatures plummet, alcohol use on the reserve soars, he said. Winter roads and snowmobiles make it easier to bring in drugs and alcohol as well. With that come higher levels of violence.

Antsanen said the RCMP come to patrol just once a month. The rest of the time, it is up to band constables.

Swan and Toews were together Wednesday at a meeting of federal and provincial justice ministers in Regina. Swan said everyone at the meeting seemed to agree the aboriginal policing programs had to expand, which would mean more reserves would be policed by a force such as the Dakota Ojibway Police Service.

DOPS is an independent police agency that serves the six communities in the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council. An agreement between DOTC, Ottawa and Manitoba sees Ottawa pay 52 per cent and Manitoba 48 per cent of the costs.

Most Manitoba reserves are policed by the RCMP, but many do not have a permanent RCMP presence.

Swan said he knows Antsanen is frustrated, but Manitoba's hands are tied unless Ottawa is prepared to provide more money.

He said Manitoba is behind a plan to expand aboriginal policing and is willing to pay more, but Ottawa needs to pay more as well.

A spokeswoman for Toews said policing is primarily a provincial responsibility, but Ottawa is willing to work together.

"While I can't comment on any potential future budget decisions, I can say that if the NDP government of Manitoba is finally going to join our government in our commitment to keep streets and communities safe, we encourage them to request any officers they feel they need through their provincial police services agreement," said Julie Carmichael in a statement.

Antsanen said he feels like his reserve is caught between two stubborn governments that are waiting for the other to blink first.

"Both governments are not budging at all. It's their responsibility and it's very frustrating."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A8

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