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Police service shut down


Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Siksika First Nation







Page 1

The federal and provincial governments decided to cut off funding in early April, effectively putting the Siksika Nation Tribal Police Service out of business.

As of the April 1, the officers were stripped of their policing powers and the Aboriginal police department that was started up in 1991 ceased to exist.

Siksika Police Commission director Kathleen McHugh told Windspeaker the RCMP took over policing responsibilities for the community.

"The RCMP said the Siksika officers could no longer call themselves police officers, but they could wear their uniforms and ride along with the RCMP. That's an insult. These people are trained, they have gone through the same training as the RCMP and to be treated with such humiliation, it's not right," she said.

Chief and council have shown their support for the officers by keeping them on the payroll until at least September, but they've been stripped of their appointments and are no longer on the job.

There have been troubles in the police service. Allegations of financial mismanagement in the southern Alberta community, located about 100 km east of Calgary, were reported in the press as far back as 1997. Some community members have been calling for the RCMP to take over policing for some time now. In 2001, a petition calling for the removal of the entire police commission was circulated in the community. Several former and current employees contacted this publication several months ago to bring their grievances to our attention.

Although provincial and federal officials won't confirm it- in fact both governments are being extremely secretive about their reasons for making the decision-some of the band members' complaints must have had some impact on the decision to end the policing agreement.

The federal and provincial governments gave Siksika notice of their intentions on March 8 and then followed through 23 days later. The Siksika council challenged the decision, saying the move violated the terms of the policing agreement. Band council resolution 01-118 of the Siksika council stated the council believes the policing agreement "does not expire until at least Sept. 30, 2002 and will be renewed pursuant to a further negotiated policing agreement and, the appointments of each police officer do not expire until that time."

A letter from Siksika police commission chairman Roy Little Chief and Siksika Chief Adrian Stimson to the federal and provincial officials in charge of Aboriginal policing in Alberta added more details.

Citing Section 4.2 of the agreement, Little Chief and Stimson stated their consent was needed in order to end the agreement before "a new agreement comes into force or until Sept. 30, 2002, whichever comes first."

Garnet Lewis, assistant director with the Alberta Solicitor General's Office, offered few details about his government's interpretation of the agreement, but he said it's over.

"Our position is that the agreement expired on March 31," he said.

Despite the fact that the March 30 letter was addressed to Jim Nichols, Alberta's deputy solicitor general, Lewis said he was not aware of any legal action or formal challenge of the province's position from the band council.

When asked for reasons why the province made that decision, Lewis provided an answer that was short on details.

"The federal solicitor general and Alberta solicitor general determined that outstanding administrative and operational concerns about the Siksika Nation Police Service were such that the only choice was to allow the agreement with Siksika by which they operated their own police service to end. The agreement expired on March 31 and as of 12 a.m. April 1, the RCMP assumed responsibility for policing the Siksika Nation," he said.

Pressed for more information, he provided little.

"My understanding is that the federal government did an audit of this First Nation which uncovered some concerns," he said.

First Nation policing soures across the country worry that he move is a sign that Alberta has lost interest in First Nation policing. Lewis said that's not the case.

"The provincial government still strongly believes in First Nations policing," he said.

Several members of the federal solicitor general's office and its Aboriginal Policing Directorate were contacted for comment. Although communications staff promised Blaine Harvey, the department's director general of communications would call, he did not.

Windspeaker obtained a six-page document titled "Management action plan-audit of the Siksika Nation tripartite agreement on policing" that shows many aspects of the operation of the police service were not satisfactory to federal auditors.

The areas that were red-flagged are: financial management of the police service, utilization of contributed funds, inadequate segregation of duties, payment to vendors, general insurance, automotive insurance, compensation of employees, maintenance of personnel files, safeguarding of assets, payment of honorariums, travel expenses, retention of financial records, budgets and use of surplus funds.

McHugh said that is ancient history and is just a pretext for another, hidden agenda.

"The audit that everyone is talking about is from 1997 to 1999. The audit report was presented in January of 2000 and a management action plan was set up between the three parties. The management action plan addressed the concerns as a result of the audit," she said, adding that was looked after before the end of the previous three year policing agreement.

If that wasn't the real reason, why was the decision made, she was asked.

"The only thing I can think of is the agenda that the province has as far as regionalization of policing. That has an impact on First Nations policing that puts us directly under the provincial government. So it's political now because it deals with jurisdiction," she replied. "Whatever the province is doing they haven't includedus. They haven't sent us any documentation, theyhaven't addressed First Nation issues. They're going about their planning without the participation of First Nations."

Kelly Breaker sees this as a vindication of sorts. He is a former police dispatcher at Siksika who was fired on April 7, 2001 and has since led a stubborn campaign to force reforms. He was handed the pink slip after he successfully challenged the police administration on a variety of labor code violations involving length of shifts, paid holidays and other matters.

It would be easy to dismiss Breaker as a disgruntled ex-employee except that so many of his criticisms of his former employer are easy to verify. Minutes of police commission meetings show the commission members discussing his situation and admitting that he had forced them to provide back pay to police dispatchers who were not paid overtime for working 12 hour shifts and not paid overtime for working on holidays.

He said he had raised the issue with the police chief and the police commission without success before he contacted labor officials.

"They pretty much make up the rules as they go along," Breaker said.

Breaker said the police commission, the band council and officials in the provincial and federal solicitor general offices passed the buck back and forth in response to his complaints. He was left wondering whom- if anyone-was accountable to the public for the operation of this vital service.

McHugh wouldn't discuss the details of Breaker's situation but she did say it was possible that the outside governments used his many complaints as a reason to pull the plug on the Siksika police.

She said it was observed that the RCMP added manpower to surrounding detachments well before March 31, a sign the decision had been made well before it was revealed to the First Nation.

"The letter the federal representatives faxed to the nation on March 8, we received it on March 12. All he said in that letter was based on the inaility to resolve these issues-and he didn't say what the issus were-the federal government will not renew the agreement. We went to Ottawa the next day and Senator [Thelma] Chalifoux arranged a meeting with the solicitor general of Canada. So the deputy minister-three members came and met with Siksika. They were uncooperative. They did not want to listen to Siksika. They had only listened to their federal representative who, obviously was giving only his version of the agreement relationship. The meeting was not very fruitful," she said. "We set up a meeting to try and get an extension of the agreement prior to March 31. The province phoned back and arranged a meeting for March 28. We had a binder prepared for everyone who was at that meeting and in that binder it addressed every concern of the management action plan and what we did to resolve that issue. The federal representative didn't even open that binder. He just came in and said, 'My message to you is that we are not renewing this agreement and there will no further dealings with Siksika as far as policing goes.' That was it."

She claims the fact the First Nation police commission made a decision that the other parties didn't agree with might have been the main reason the agreement was ended.

"One of the other issues that the provincial government was concerned about was the chief of police who had been appointed by the commission. The concern was that he was not qualified to be a chief of police," she said. "The story behind that is that Bernie Bearhat was our sixth chief of police within 10 years. So, obviously there is no stability. Three of the other chiefs of police had been terminated and the other two were secondments from the RCMP. The RCMP didn't renew their secondments."

The commission asked for financial help to develop a chief of police who would be willing to make a career out of working for Siksika. But the other parties said there was no money.

"So the commission said, 'Enough of thi