Northern Manitoba First Nations without band constables or access to proper detention facilities are asking the RCMP and the provincial justice department to take action to help them ensure both the public and those accused of breaking the law are safe.
Joe Antsanen, chief of the Northlands Denesuline First Nation in Lac Brochet says his community has no certified band constables or access to RCMP detention facilities and are being forced to house those who run afoul of the law in the dressing room of a hockey arena as a result.
"The RCMP took away the keys to our detention facilities in March of this year," he said in a press release issued by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), a political advocacy organization that represents 30 northern Manitoba First Nations. "We have been forced to take matters into our own hands and to detain people in the Northlands Arena for safety reasons or for assaults or drug and alcohol infractions."
The press release was accompanied by two photos of an unidentified man being detained with his hands cuffed behind his back and secured by a chain.
"The minister [of justice] and the RCMP commanding officer have been aware since June 2012 of the ongoing policing crisis at the Northlands Denesuline First Nation in Lac Brochet and have failed to take action to ensure public safety and to maintain law and order," said MKO Grand Chief David Harper.
RCMP spokesperson Miles Hiebert told the Canadian Press that RCMP holding cells can only be staffed by trained personnel or authorized peace officers in the interest of public safety.
Keewatin Tribal Council (KTC) Tribal Chief Irvin Sinclair said that the future of the band constable program is unclear. KTC represents 11 First Nations in Northern Manitoba.
"Manitoba has stopped certifying new band constables and Canada will not give First Nations a straight answer about the future of the band constable program."
Sinclair also said that despite meetings with Premier Greg Selinger, Justice Minister Andrew Swan, the RCMP and Public Safety Canada about how to ensure public safety and maintain laws and order in Northern Manitoba Communities, First Nations haven't been consulted on decisions that affect them, like the renewal of the Provincial Police Service Agreement between the province and the RCMP in March 2012.
Swan said that the band constable training program was run by the federal government and had not offered any training for at least two years, but a Public Safety spokesperson said it's up to the provincial government to decide who has the authority to detain people, according to the Canadian Press.
The policing situation is similar in Fox Lake First Nation, says Chief Walter J. Spence, where there are no certified band constables and no suitable dentition facilities available to house people who have been arrested even if there were.
"We often have to wait several hours for the RCMP in Gillam to respond to urgent calls from my community," said Spence.
Provinces are responsible for the administration of justice under Section 92 (14) of the British North America Act, which was renamed The Constitution Act, 1867 in 1982, the MKO press release notes.
"It is time for Manitoba to stop passing the buck to Canada and to take action to protect the public safety of First Nations people in Manitoba," said Harper.