Vic Toews’ last minute announcement that federal support for Aboriginal policing would be continued for five years concealed the problem of unequal resources and discriminatory funding.
Federal funding has been frozen since 2008 (try to imagine the Toronto Police Board in the same situation) and, as a result, understaffing and poor conditions are a reality in too many communities.
At a recent meeting in Garden River First Nation, just outside Sault Ste. Marie, the impact of budget cuts became clear: staff salaries fall further behind, and recruitment becomes more difficult. Facilities were in good condition, but I was told that in isolated, fly-in communities that is simply not the case. In an earlier conversation with Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Chief Alvin Fiddler, I was told that poor conditions had contributed directly to the loss of life and an increased risk to security.
It is ironic that all this would be happening with a government supposedly committed to ‘law and order’. Some people’s security is clearly more important than others.
The other issue that came home clearly is the extent to which addiction is a huge challenge in First Nations communities across the north. Alcohol has always brought with it the accompanying ravages of family abuse. OxyContin and its family of drugs have a different effect: a deep addiction, and property crime to pay for the habit. Family neglect becomes another form of family abuse.
Dealing with these realities first requires a recognition that there is a problem, that it is widespread and in some communities systemic.
Again, the Harper government seems to prefer to ignore the problem. Chiefs are increasingly demanding help, but these issues simply aren’t getting the priority they need.