The Eeyou Istchee Cree took another step towards professionalizing their police force on January 23 with the start of the AEC Police Technology Program at Collège Ellis in Drummondville.
The program is a partnership between the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF), Collège Ellis and the Cree School Board. Its goal is to teach Cree students the necessary skills to become certified police officers in the province of Quebec.
“It’s important for us to hire well-trained patrol officers with a good knowledge of the Cree language and culture,” Police Chief Reggie Bobbish said over the phone, an earnestness clear in his voice. “The majority of people we serve are Cree-speaking. In order to professionalize the police force, we need our officers to be able to communicate with the people they serve.”
Graduates of the 12-month program will embark on a 14-week Police Patrolling program at the École Nationale de Police du Québec. Upon completion of this program, they will have the same certification as any other police officer in Quebec.
The program is similar to the AEC program offered at John Abbott College, but Collège Ellis worked closely with the EEPF and the Cree School Board to tailor the program to the community’s needs. In addition to the training program, the college will also help students acquire their 4A drivers’ license, which allows its holder to drive an emergency vehicle, such as a police car.
“The Cree Regional Authority (CRA) had a big say in how we would accommodate the students,” said Johnny Trapper, Director of Human Resources at the CRA. “We have a very good working relationship with the college. They’re really extending their hand for us.”
Trapper said the program was nearly derailed when Collège Ellis’ first proposal was rejected by the Quebec Ministry of Education. But Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come intervened on behalf of the EEPF, and the program was approved.
“We needed to recruit officers for the new police force, and needed the program for this,” said Trapper. “Our deepest thanks goes to our Grand Chief for intervening on our behalf.”
Bobbish addressed the program’s 21-person inaugural class on January 23, saying they were helping their community take another step towards autonomy.
“We, the Crees, are on the path of self-governance,” he told the students. “But to achieve this goal we have to demonstrate our abilities to implement structures and entities that govern and regulate a democratic society.”
The EEPF says the program is crucial to achieving their goal of professionalizing the new police force, which has yet to celebrate its first anniversary. Before April 2011, Cree police forces were independent of each other, and there was no regional force. The EEPF, overseen by the CRA, changed this. By regionalizing, the department is now able to offer working conditions similar to other police forces in Canada. The pension plan saw an especially significant upgrade.
“Some people were in their 20th year when the EEPF was born,” said Trapper. “The CRA absorbed all their costs from day one. It was as if that police officer started paying into the plan in 1991.”
Equally important, said both Trapper and Bobbish, was the guarantee that EEPF police would receive equivalent training to other forces across the country. They said this ensures a professional and reliable service, while giving its members opportunities to climb ranks within a police force of their choosing. It’s an opportunity both for the individual and the community.
The EEPF stressed this is not a one-time affair. They are offering another program beginning this coming September. Applications will be accepted until March 1. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.