There is strength in unity. That’s the lesson of months of difficult talks between Crees and government officials on police reform and underfunding.
After sticking together throughout the talks, the nine Cree communities met with success on May 17, when government negotiators agreed to most of the Cree demands on policing.
Under the offer, Cree police would get nearly three times more government funding, the same status as all other police in Quebec, jurisdiction over Category I land and shared jurisdiction with the SQ over Category II lands and on access roads to the communities, and joint responsibility with the RCMP for offshore islands.
“Our strategy seems to have worked,” said Bill Namagoose, the executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees.
“The chief constables are happy with it. It’s a huge increase in funds,” he said.
At first, Namagoose said, government officials wanted to negotiate separate agreements with each band. But all the communities stuck together during the talks despite government efforts to divide them.
“I think the police and chiefs were amazed by what can be achieved by going collectively, rather than going band by band. The guys stayed together. There was tremendous bargaining power and we have more purchasing power for expensive equipment,” said Namagoose.
A copy of the joint federal-provincial offer was obtained by The Nation. The offer was discussed by Cree chiefs in early June. They agreed in principle that the offer could be the basis of further negotiations.
The bargaining was quite difficult at times. Talks with Ottawa and Quebec broke down on February 15 and government funds for Cree police ran out on March 31, forcing Crees to pick up the tab.
On May 11, the Assembly of First Nations backed up the Crees by denouncing Ottawa’s policy on policing in all First Nations communities across Canada.
The big sticking point in the talks was the question of funding. Under present arrangements, the government spends $156 on policing for each person in the Cree Territory. That’s a fraction of the $651 spent on policing for each person in the Yukon and the $730 for each NWT resident.
In its latest offer, Quebec and Ottawa agreed to increase police funding from the current $1.6 million a year to $4.2 million next year. The number of constables would increase from 21 to 42. That’s still less than the $6 million and 60 constables Crees were seeking, but it’s not too bad either, said Namagoose.
When the talks broke down in February, the government offer was much worse—an increase of only 10 constables, from 21 to 31.