Angry Chisasibi residents erected a blockade on the only road into the community last week after Assistant Director of Policing Larry Ross was handed a 30-day suspension and resigned from the force as a result.
Ross, a Mohawk, was suspended by Director of Policing Harry Snowboy Oct. 15 for seven counts of breaching the Cree Code of Ethics. These counts include; making statements or revealing information on police investigations or activities to persons other than those authorized by the police or by law; refusing to be accountable to the police director in respect to all activities performed in the capacity of a Cree constable; demonstrating a disrespectful or impolite attitude toward his superiors or toward members of the community.
Ross disputes the charges. “For whatever reason, innocent until proven guilty did not apply to my case,” he told the Nation. “In my opinion these charges were fabricated with malicious intent.”
In a strange twist, the Director of Policing Snowboy himself was suspended for unspecified reasons the following day, Oct. 16. Chisasibi Chief Abraham Rupert had met with his council on July 30 to discuss grievances filed against the Police in general, but mostly against Snowboy in particular. Snowboy’s suspension was also for 30 days.
In the interim, Eric Mistacheesick, and Samuel House have been appointed as the Director and Assistant Director, respectively.
During the same meeting, the Chief and council appointed a committee to look into the allegations against the police and Snowboy. This committee consists of Clarence Snowboy, the Director of Operations, Davey Bobbish, Director of Finance Administration, and Daniel Legault, an expert consultant on human resources from Montreal.
On Monday, Oct. 20, Clarence Snowboy received a phone call from an unidentified police officer saying that if Ross was not reinstated, officers on the Chisasibi force would walk out. A follow up call by Snowboy to the interim Chief revealed that up to 10 officers were willing to take part in the protest. The station was informed by the newly appointed committee that since they are part of the essential services of the community, a walk out would be considered illegal. There would be repercussions for a walk out that could include a reprimand, or a possible suspension.
The officers then rescinded the threat.
Then on Tuesday, Oct. 21, Clarence Snowboy was informed that Harry Snowboy and Larry Ross wanted their suspensions clarified. A letter was sent to both of them stating that as part of their suspension, they are not to interfere in police matters, and were barred from contacting the police station for the duration of their suspension. They were also informed that their sole contact to discuss any police matters would be Clarence Snowboy.
Complicating matters, Ross was staying with another police officer in Chisasibi. This was seen as a conflict with his suspension and because of this, Director Snowboy ordered that for the duration of his suspension Ross would have to leave the community, pending the results of the investigation.
When Ross met with Clarence Snowboy, he was given the outlines of his suspension. Ross replied that he felt they were illegal and unjust. Ross then proposed a severance package in order to walk out quietly, and after some negotiations, the package was grudgingly accepted and Ross resigned.
‘There was no due process, therefore no justice, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any,” Ross explained. “I was told to leave and never come back to the community by Clarence Snowboy, and I have a witness to back me up.”
Then on Wednesday, Oct. 22, some members of the community erected a roadblock in support of Ross. Their aim was to stop him from leaving the community, and to get a public meeting with the Chief and Council. Ross claims they collected a petition of over 2,000 names.
“If your boss feels he has to suspend you, then that’s what should be done,” said Chief Rupert. “But by putting up a roadblock, it shows that the people are serious and they want their voices heard, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
A community meeting the night of Oct. 22 heard many complaints about the administration of the Chisasibi force. “The Chief and Council have final say as far as reinstatement is concerned. As in any case, there are two sides to the story, and we wanted to hear both sides,” said Rupert.
Many people did not want to see Ross leave, but it was too late. Ross said that he spoke to the community to thank them for their support, and received a standing ovation. “The support I received from the community was overwhelming, and it’s something I’ll never forget,” Ross said.
When asked whether he would go back to Chisasibi if given an opportunity, Ross replied, “Yes, I would, but only if the suspension was rescinded, and the political interference into the affairs of the police department stopped. I would not go back on their terms, I would go back on the morally right terms and not the politically right terms.”