A new Cree Nation police force could be taking its oath of service in 2005 to finally bring policing in all of Eeyou Istchee under one command. It’s the culmination of a long-awaited implementation of section 19 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and new policing provisions in the Paix des Braves.
The political significance of a new, national force could be immense. “Policing is an icon, a symbol of sovereignty and control over your territory,” said Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees (GCC).
Under a new agreement, which is still in the planning stages, the GCC would get more control over provincial highways that run in and around Cree communities. Quebec is ready to sign the deal, but up until this point, negotiations with Canada have been moving at a snail’s pace. Both Canada and Quebec are responsible for Cree Nation policing under the JBNQA.
When the Paix des Braves was signed between Quebec and the Crees Feb. 2, 2002, the Cree were allotted an extra eight constables to patrol the nine communities. The number of police officers in Eeyou Istchee went from 47 to 55.
“This goes back to section 19 of the JBNQA,” said Namagoose. “There were supposed to be Cree units of the Quebec police force. We couldn’t agree what that meant. Quebec wanted them to be hired by the Sûreté du Quebec and be separate from the local community police. Canada said we couldn’t have both, so we went with local policing and the Cree unit issue was left outstanding.”
The GCC still feels they are entitled to these “Cree units,” but will give them up in exchange for a Cree Nation police force, which would fall under Cree control instead of the SQ. “Instead of having nine separate police forces, we’d have one,” said Namagoose.
It’s hoped that through negotiation that the new force will have a much larger area to cover and full jurisdiction over that area. This includes highways and other places not already patrolled by the SQ.
The new agreement would also ensure better, more enhanced training for the new officers and consistent directives for veteran officers. They would also have new uniforms. Showing up to police a public event in nine different uniforms doesn’t look very professional, Namagoose remarked.
The annual budget for policing would increase by $1.3 million when the new agreement is signed, up to $8.7 million. Those figures would include funding for an additional 10 police officers.
Some of the ideas floating around for those officers and their duties include: an inland captain and a coastal captain, a police director and a police commission. There would also be a major crimes unit, and a victim assistance program, as well as a public relations officer. None of these ideas are set in stone as the logistics have yet to be negotiated, said Namagoose.
They will also look at the possibility of a 91 I service for all of Eeyou Istchee
“The best part about an agreement like this is the young police officers can climb the ladder to advance their careers. Right now they can’t do that,” said Namagoose. “Also, some police officers feel uncomfortable that they have to patrol their cousins. This way an officer from Nemaska would get a chance to patrol in a bigger town like Mistissini,” he said.
The Grand Council will be informing the people over the next few months as to what they can expect with a Cree Nation Police Force and what changes will be made that will affect them.
The current policing agreement expires March 31,2005.