Police in the Cree communities have been without funding since April 1, 1994.
Negotiations with Ottawa and Quebec on funding and police reform broke down on Feb. 15. Cree negotiators felt the talks weren’t going anywhere because the government representatives were limited by a narrow mandate.
“We all worked really hard to come up with the best proposition that would adequately represent the needs of the Crees in regards to police services. The deal was the best thing we’ve ever tabled but Canada and Quebec came with an inferior mandate,” said Mistissini Chief Henry Mianscum, who sits on the Cree negotiating team on police reform.
“I think they expected the Cree people to give in to their take-it-or-leave-it position. The federal government wasn’t well prepared, they sent a former recreation director who didn’t seem to know anything about the Cree policing system, its needs or our concerns.”
Funding arrangements for Cree police expired March 31. Since then, the band councils are being forced to pick up the tab on the expectation that the money will be reimbursed by Quebec and Canada upon conclusion of the negotiations.
In the negotiations, Crees wanted police officers recognized as having the same powers as other city police in Quebec and having greater jurisdiction in Cree lands. They also sought a threefold increase in the number of officers, from the present 20 to 60. They also wanted funding increases to pay for the extra officers.
During the negotiations, Nemaska was approached separately by government representatives. Instead of the two constables that Nemaska was offered at the table, they were told they could have three if they were willing to break ranks and sign a separate agreement immediately. The Nemaska band refused to negotiate on its own, saying they weren’t about to fall for the old government tactic of divide and conquer.
“I guess that’s an indication that the governments don’t approve of a united Cree effort to make a comprehensive police force, a better structure to enable us to bring the police up to standard,” said Chief Mianscum. “We are fortunate that
Nemaska didn’t swallow the bait. I’m sure they [government] would have sweetened the pot for a few by minimizing elsewhere.”
Chief Mianscum criticized Ottawa and Quebec for failing to live up to their promises on policing in the James Bay Agreement. “There has been only a partial implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement to date. The governments have refused to fulfil their end of the deal. We are united in this matter.”
The police negotiations were discussed at meetings of Cree leaders in Montreal from April 5 to 7. There was also a joint meeting of chiefs, chief constables and Cree negotiators on March 30.
Quebec was ready to meet some of the Cree demands such as recognizing Cree police as regular municipal police and giving them increased jurisdiction. Quebec will allow all Cree constables to be sworn in for all Cree communities, and they would have full jurisdiction in all Category 1A and 1B lands, plus would be able to arrest, pursue and investigate suspects throughout Quebec. Constables would also be able to patrol Category II lands, and respond to calls on Category III lands. Ottawa was also ready to give Cree constables some jurisdiction over off-shore islands, pending talks with the Northwest Territories.
But talks stalled on the key issue of numbers. Quebec offered to fund only 31 police officers—one for every 387 Cree people. This falls “far short’ of the need in the Cree communities, says a report on the police talks by the Grand Council. For comparison, the Northwest Territories has one officer per 250 people.
In the report, the Grand Council recommends that “additional political and legal pressure” should be put on both levels of government if an agreement isn’t reached quickly. The Grand Council also recommends that “the Cree Nation should indicate publicly its intention of setting up its own independent Cree Peacekeeping Force to exercise police jurisdiction and authority throughout the James Bay Territory.” This force would not be implemented immediately since Cree constables are busy enough as it is, but this would be a longterm goal.
The Grand Council also says it would support a one-day work-stoppage by Cree constables to protest the stalled talks.