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Chief Of Anishinabek Police Services Jeff Skye is joined by UCCM Anishnaabe Chief of Police James Killeen, left, and Treaty Three Police Chief Kai Liu as he speaks at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 12.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The chiefs of three Indigenous police forces in Ontario have rejected the federal Public Safety Minister’s offer to give them more control over their financing and operations, opting to instead wait for an imminent judicial ruling on their months-long funding impasse with Ottawa.

Marco Mendicino wrote the forces on June 24 to tell them that he had altered the structure of Canada’s funding accords for First Nations policing in hopes of unlocking money and meeting their concerns, according to correspondence obtained by The Globe and Mail.

On June 28, the chiefs – Jeff Skye of the Anishinabek Police Service, Kai Liu of the Treaty Three Police Service and James Killeen of the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service – wrote back to say that the gesture amounts to too little, too late.

“Respectfully, Minister, you clearly could have taken these steps beforehand, but chose to time the matter in a way that causes even more confusion and anxiety,” the police chiefs wrote in their letter this week.

No money has flowed to the three forces since their government grant arrangements expired on March 31. Negotiations for new ones had since broke down in a dispute over the federal government’s terms and conditions.

The police leaders had appeared at a Parliament Hill press conference this month saying the situation had already festered to the point that their forces are going broke and that they may have to lay off officers. Groups representing the affected First Nations – comprising more than 40 reserves and 30,000 people – have declared states of emergency because of the prospect of a police pullout. Some have said they would not accept any replacement forces, such as the Ontario Provincial Police.

Ontario police chiefs urge end to fixed-term funding for Indigenous policing

In their letter, the three chiefs conveyed to Mr. Mendicino that First Nations police forces need stable funding, but rely instead on government-grant programs with terms that can be created and destroyed with a pen stroke.

“Minister, your demonstration of how quickly and easily you can strike one of the discriminatory prohibitions, makes the point that this entire travesty is unnecessary,” the chiefs wrote. “In the meantime, we will continue to look to the Honourable Court to safeguard our rights to keep our communities safe.”

The Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario, which represents nine police forces in the province, has launched a legal action supporting its three members positions. This led to a June 14 emergency hearing in Federal Court where lawyers urged a judge to unlock government funds. A ruling is pending.

The Public Safety Minister had already been facing a chorus of criticisms inside the House of Commons before its recent recess. The Conservative Opposition had been calling for Mr. Mendicino’s resignation because of his handling of a controversy over convicted murderer Paul Bernardo’s move to medium-security prison.

In his June 24 letter to the three police forces, Mr. Mendicino referenced how the Liberal government has announced plans for a bill that would provide more stable funding for First Nations policing.

“Until First Nations Police Services legislation is introduced, I continue to be constrained by the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP) Terms and Conditions as this is the only mechanism to flow funding to your Police Services,” he wrote.

Since last fall, the three police forces have been telling Public Safety Canada officials that they would not agree to standard FNIPP terms where the government says it will not cover certain costs. The specific frictions surround bans on First Nations forces using government funding for specialized policing squads, non-operational legal costs and debt-financing arrangements such as mortgages.

In Mr. Mendicino’s letter, he says that he has altered the FNIPP terms to remove some of the roadblocks. Documents show the government would now fund specialized squads for Indigenous police forces. It also sets the maximum annual allotment for any force to $20-million a year.

But the three police chiefs replied saying that “we will not sign documents agreeing to submit our communities to these arbitrary and discriminatory Terms and Conditions.” They say key concerns remain unaddressed, “namely, the prohibition against expenditures on legal representation and the prohibition against expenditures in relation to debt financing such as mortgages.”

Ottawa argues in legal document it is not responsible for paying for First Nations policing

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