The non-Native opposition to employing Cree officers to police Cree lands was taken to a new level in late January as mayors of the Municipalité de la Baie James (MBJ) pleaded with Quebec MNAs to defeat Bill 54, the amendment to Quebec’s Police Act that would enable effective policing of the vast territory.
The Matagami Mayor René Dubé said that having Crees patrol category 1 lands was different than policing the rest of the territory. “It’s their right [on category 1], but category 2 and 3 land is the Quebec governments’ responsibility,” he said. “That’s what we ask and we want to be sure, that they go through the same training and courses [as do officers from the Sûreté du Quebec].”
In fact, all police officers in the province, be they Cree, SQ or municipal, are trained at the same facility, using the same techniques, at the training centre of Nicolet. That fact was emphasized when the debate started late last year after MBJ Chairman Gerald Lemoyne criticized the policing agreement between Quebec and the Grand Council. He said in a Journal de Montreal article that Cree police officers should not be allowed to patrol other towns in the MBJ because they were not fully qualified.
The policing deal, which is over 30 years in the making, is enshrined in an amendment to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Lemoyne and other mayors are hoping that it can be changed to ensure non-Native Quebecers in the Municipalité de Baie James are not policed by Cree officers.
Grand Council Executive Director Bill Namagoose called the comments racist. Lemoyne said his comments were taken out of context.
Testimony before a National Assembly committee by some of the mayors of the MBJ and Cree Chief Matthew Mukash were held to clarify the concerns MBJ mayors had with Bill 54.
When the National Assembly reconvenes in March, the members of all political parties will bring their findings to Quebec City and discuss whether more questions need to be answered. The bill will then either be passed, changed, or quashed.
Grand Chief Mukash talked about the importance of the new policing agreement, which would see Cree policing become regionalized as opposed to its current format of nine separate local stations.
The police force would be able to respond to calls, for example in Chibougamau, if a Cree were involved. It is seen by the GCC as a joint partnership between the Cree Nation and their neighboring communities.
“Quebec agreed to allow for the establishment of a Cree Regional Police Force with certain negotiated jurisdictions on category 1 lands, and the Crees agreed to drop their claims regarding Chapter 19 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement,” Mukash explained, an agreement which was part of the Paix des Braves.
“The complementary agreement Eeyou-Eenou Police Force will be responsible for police services within category 1A and 1B lands, as well as category 2 and 3 lands, within the parameters of category 1 lands as provided by the Paix des Braves.”
But others were not happy with the process.
MBJ Councillor Colombe Fortin said “it is unacceptable, in our minds, that the population and the Jamesian authorities cannot be an integral part of discussions involving a subject as essential as police on the territory.”
Quebec Indian Affairs Minister Benoit Pelletier questioned Mukash about the Grand Council’s willingness to open up the consultation process to the MBJ mayors.
“If there’s a change in the bill, in order to clearly specify that the government will consult these municipalities, is it something that appears acceptable to you?” Pelletier asked.
Mukash said that originally, Crees were supposed to be members of the provincial police force and that the Crees had already taken a step back on that. “If there are any changes to the current form of the bill as it is, it is not acceptable to the Cree Nation,” Mukash said.