Over 35 years since it originally became a clause in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Eeyou Eenou Police Force finally became a reality on April 1, uniting all nine community police forces under one leadership.
“This handover means a consolidation; we are taking over and putting in place a big Cree Nation icon. I call policing one of the pillars of governance, along with justice and all of the other institutions that we manage. This is one of the pillars that has finally fallen into place,” said Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees.
According to Namagoose, the police force has been many years in the planning and as it has finally become a reality, it is a symbol of Cree pride. While Namagoose said there are still some technical and administrative issues to be worked out, the Grand Council of the Crees/ Cree Regional Authority has managed to create the bylaws that will govern policing work.
The biggest difference between just over a month ago and the beginning of the new administration on April 1 is that the police units are now under one director, Reggie Bobbish, who is now heading up a force of 80 police officers.
There are now also three regional police captains: Lyle Cox from Chisasibi, Carl Simard from Oujé and Joe Saganash from Waswanipi. Each local police detachment will now be headed up by its own lieutenant.
According to Namagoose, there are also several advantages to having the entire police force working under one umbrella as it will be considerably easier for each detachment to share information and strategies.
“There will be more cooperation as everybody is working for one organization rather than nine separate ones in the nine different communities. There will be more efficiency and a better flow of ideas and information as well as a greater capacity to work with each other,” said Namagoose.
The new Eeyou Eenou Police Force will have a more homogenized look as all the officers will wear new matching uniforms throughout the region.
Namagoose said in the past when regional policing meetings would be called there would be officers showing up in nine different uniforms, like a “hodgepodge of police departments”. With a new uniform the entire force will have a unified look so that officers are more precise in their appearance.
A new police force also means more homogenization when it comes to police training as now every constable will require the same certification.
In the past the Crees weren’t able to use the title of special constable as being a special constable requires specific training. Under the new regime Cree police will need to be certified and have undergone the standard provincial training for the most part.
“All our police officers have to be full-fledged police constables and, of course, we can swear in special constables if need be. But the emphasis in the future will be to have more training programs and more training for the Crees because this is what we found was lacking. Before nobody was really in charge of this, now we will have one organization that will look at training,” said Namagoose.
New training will mean more programs for detective work as well as drug enforcement and other areas that the new administration feels need to be strengthened.
The officers themselves are now seeing vast improvements to their pay scale, working conditions and pension plans. The GCC/CRA wanted to put their officers on par with police forces throughout Quebec and so they hired a firm to look at standards else in the province. As a result, the Council Board adopted a new pay scale and working conditions that are reflective of the rest of Quebec.
Police now have a pension plan that they did not have previously as employees under the Band Council. While they will have to pay in higher rates to the plan, police will be able to retire earlier. The CRA also pulled funding from its budget and contributed $1.6 million to the new pension plan.
Changing the image of not just the police force but policing in general within Eeyou Istchee is an essential part of the new Eeyou Eenou Police Force. Namagoose said some Crees view becoming a police officer is just another job. However, he would like to take that image and remarket it so that policing is seen a solid career, something that Cree youth can aspire to.
“In the past, some people were just deputized and were given a cruiser, but it shouldn’t work like that. We want to professionalize the police force so that it is a career,” said Namagoose.