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Auditor General of Canada Karen Hogan speaks during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on March 19.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

The federal government earmarked more than half a billion dollars in recent years to improve and expand Indigenous policing programs, including into the far North, but there has been little development to show for it, according to a new Auditor-General report.

Karen Hogan concluded in her report, released Tuesday, that the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program’s footprint remains mostly fixed, as no Indigenous communities were added to self‑administered police service agreements during its five-year audit period from period from April, 2018, to August, 2023. (One agreement was finalized in September, 2023.) The Auditor-General also said federal officials have never devised an application process for communities to join the FNIPP.

“There’s been very little progress or push for new communities to join,” Ms. Hogan told reporters in Ottawa. “It isn’t being expanded or transitioned to self-administered programs, which is ideally what should be happening – to support reconciliation.”

The FNIPP uses a federal-provincial cost-splitting formula to increase the police presence inside Indigenous jurisdictions, with officers being assigned to establish a proactive presence in these communities. The enhanced policing program, which first launched in the 1990s, can either route additional RCMP officers to communities or fund autonomous Indigenous police forces that are self-administered.

Some Indigenous communities have some of the highest crime-severity rates and lowest police presences in Canada. Statscan recently reported that Indigenous people were six times more likely to be homicide victims than non-Indigenous people.

Yet access to policing still varies drastically among First Nations. Some communities now have ensconced Indigenous police forces funded by the FNIPP. Ones in Ontario and Quebec have lately been turning to courts and human-rights tribunals to ensure their access to sustainable government funding.

Meantime, other communities rely on enhancing the RCMP and still others place lack any policing agreements altogether. In 2022, James Smith Cree Nation – a reserve bypassed by the FNIPP – became the site of one of Canada’s worst massacres, with a lone attacker killing 11 people and wounding 17 others before RCMP officers responded to that attack from the next town over.

The First Nations who are accepted into the FNIPP do not pay but control how these arrangements may take shape. Hundreds of communities signed onto the FNIPP in the 1990s and early 2000s, but later applicants were frozen out, as periodic program-funding freezes limited the initiative’s reach.

Today, just over half of Canada’s nearly 700 First Nations and Inuit communities have enhanced policing agreements in place, and 155 First Nations have accessed the funding to create nearly 40 autonomous Indigenous police forces.

Meantime, another 230 communities signed agreements with outside forces to increase their police presence. These deals, mostly signed with the RCMP, are known as community-tripartite agreements. And they involve additional Mounties who are supposed to be getting to know people on the reserve, while leaving the crime calls to their general-duty RCMP officer colleagues who patrol larger rural regions.

In 2021, the Liberals announced they would spend hundreds of millions of new dollars more on First Nations policing, including a $540-million fund over a five-year window to shore up existing arrangement by financing established independent forces. The government also aimed to expand the FNIPP to new First Nations and Inuit communities through either expanding independent forces or assigning more RCMP officers.

However, despite the new funds, the FNIPP has made inroads into hardly any new First Nations or Inuit communities. And despite the government’s pledge to expand the RCMP community tripartite agreements, the Auditor-General says no new Mounties were assigned to Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, even as new framework agreements were added to those territories.

The Auditor-General raised similar issues in a 2014 report. It then found that cost controls had led Ottawa officials to deny First Nations policing program funds to new jurisdictions that wanted to sign up.

Not much has changed in the past decade. Public Safety Canada still has “no application process for First Nations and Inuit communities that wanted to join the program,” Tuesday’s report says.

Two new reports from the Auditor-General paint a bleak picture of Ottawa's record on First Nations housing and policing. Karen Hogan said at a news conference on March 19 that the government needs to fundamentally change its approach. Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu says changing a colonial system overnight is not easy.

The Canadian Press

According to the Auditor-General, the existing and expanded funding has led the RCMP and Public Safety Canada combined to spend nearly $1-billion on the overall program over five years – starting with $155-million in 2018 and the annual amount increasing to $242-million in 2022.

The report says no one in Ottawa keeps close tabs on these rising costs: Public Safety Canada “did not know how much of the additional program funding it had allocated to the specific self‑administered police service agreements and community tripartite agreements, and it did not know what amount of funding remained to be allocated.”

The RCMP has received funding for 467 First Nations policing positions across Canada, but the force only has enough officers to fill 406 of them, the report says.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters Tuesday that he considers such staffing levels unacceptable but that he has met with RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme to discuss how to resolve them.

RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival said in an e-mail that the police force is implementing a revised staffing model. She said Indigenous communities are “a priority for the Government of Canada, and the RCMP is uniquely positioned to help meet this objective.”

The federal Liberal government has been vowing for years to fix problems by passing First Nations policing legislation. But no bill has ever materialized in Parliament. Some Indigenous leaders say they are now placing their hopes for change in a Supreme Court case that is scheduled to look at the issue of access to First Nations policing funding.

“It’s sad and frustrating that on this kind of service, which is very vital to the communities, that we have to debate before the courts,” said Ghislain Picard, an Assembly of First Nations regional chief.

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