National chief calls on Ottawa to resume policing talks after mass stabbing inquest

By Kelly Geraldine Malone

 

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says a coroner’s inquest into a mass killing in Saskatchewan shows Ottawa must return to the table to negotiate long-promised legislation declaring Indigenous policing an essential service.

“This tragedy is a systemic failure of the police and the justice system,” Cindy Woodhouse of the Assembly of First Nations said in Saskatoon on Thursday. 

“All the evidence presented throughout the (inquest) further demonstrate that if a First Nations police service had been equitably funded in the James Smith Cree Nation, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

Myles Sanderson killed 11 people and injured 17 others on the First Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon, on Sept. 4, 2022. He died in police custody a few days later.

On Wednesday, the inquest into the killings released more than two dozen recommendations, including one for the First Nation to establish a local police force in a timely fashion. 

The inquest heard that the Melfort RCMP detachment, 50 kilometres away from the First Nation, first received a report of a stabbing at 5:40 a.m. on the day of the attacks. Officers arrived at 6:18 a.m.

Woodhouse said the gap in time proved tragic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in 2020 his Liberal government would bring forward a new First Nations policing law. The pledge for policing was amplified after the stabbing rampage on James Smith.

Woodhouse said the legislation remains stalled.

“We need to get to a table and start talking … right now we’re not.”

Former public safety minister Marco Mendicino had said he would work around the clock to get the legislation tabled in the fall 2022, after the massacre, but later walked back the promise. Woodhouse said she has met with current Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, but there’s been no movement on the file.

Jurisdiction, and whether it should be the provinces or First Nations, remains the main point of contention, Woodhouse said at a news conference with Saskatchewan chiefs.

Public Safety Canada did not provide a comment Thursday.

“We are spinning our wheels over and over and over, and nothing is happening,” said Chief Wally Burns of James Smith Band, one of three communities that make up the First Nation. 

“This is where we have to stop it.”

He said there was a lot of conversation with federal counterparts about First Nations-led policing following the killings. James Smith need boots on the ground soon, he said.

The national chief said she’s looking for $3.6 billion in the March federal budget to begin addressing some of the policing issues on First Nations. 

Leadership in communities with Indigenous-led policing have long been raising concerns about chronic underfunding. As of October, there were 36 Indigenous police services across the country. Five are in Western Canada.

They are funded through the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program, which launched in 1991. In its expense-sharing model, Ottawa pays 52 per cent of the costs and the provinces or territories pay 48 per cent.

Last year, the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario and the Quebec Association of First Nation and Inuit Police Directors filed separate human rights complaints against the federal government alleging systemic discrimination because of underfunding.

Chief Bobby Cameron with Saskatchewan’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said the inquest shows safety of citizens must be a priority. Reconciliation is not happening fast enough, he added.

“The federal government has to step up to the plate.”

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