By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Justice Statues Amendment Act 2020 introduced in the Alberta legislature this afternoon aims to officially recognize First Nations police forces in the province under the Police Act.
Kaycee Madu, minister of justice and solicitor general, tabled that legislation Oct. 21.
The Police Act, as it presently sits, does not acknowledge First Nations police services. Instead, under Section 5 of the Police Act, First Nations policing is an exemption allowing the minister to “make any arrangements ? consider(ed) proper for the policing of that part of Alberta exempted?.including appointing police officers.”
There are three First Nations police services operating in the province: two in the south, the Blood Police and Tsuut’ina Police, and one in the northeast, the Lakeshore Regional Police Service.
“Hopefully (this will) encourage (First Nations) who have been thinking about having their own police services to do so now that they now have a permanent recognition in the Police Act,“ Madu told media.
“(This) amends the Police Act to acknowledge the valuable role First Nations police plays within Alberta and guarantees First Nation communities are not left behind in our efforts to modernize policing in our province,” he said.
Madu characterized the work undertaken by the three First Nations police services as “exemplary police work” and pointed out that these police officers were “more sensitive to local issues and cultures.”
“While the large sparsely populated regions of the province may be challenging to patrol, these men and women have nevertheless become a trusted and respected presence within their communities,” he said.
“I commend the minister and his government colleagues for fully recognizing the Tsuut’ina and all First Nation police agencies in the amended Police Act,” said Tsuut’ina Nation Chief Roy Whitney Onespot.
Whitney Onespot also pointed out that the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service met all provincial policing standards and duties. The Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service has been in operation since 2004 and covers an area of over 109 square miles.
Madu said the amendment puts First Nations police forces on par with municipal police forces and in so doing means the RCMP will view First Nations police forces as they do their municipal counterparts.
The amendment does not, however, mean more provincial funding for on-reserve police services.
Madu said the funding formula, which sees the federal government cover 52 per cent of the cost and the province picking up 48 per cent of the cost, remains the same.
First Nations have operated police services on reserve in Alberta for more than two decades.
According to the Blood Tribe Police Service website, the 26-member service covers more than 180,000 hectares. Based in Stand Off, Alta., the service has been in operation for 30 years.
The Lakeshore Regional Police Service was established in 2008, according to its website and is responsible for all policing services on the five First Nations that make up the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council Territory, which runs along Lesser Slave Lake.
Madu said acknowledging the First Nations police services and commissions will allow them to “sit at the table” with other police forces; allow them to hire their own police officers; and participate in police training offered by other police forces.
Changes through the Justice Statutes Amendment Act also propose to modernize the justice system; streamline court procedures, access and flexibility; expand Queen’s Counsel eligibility; and reduce red tape. This is to be done via amendments to the Jury Act, Provincial Offences Procedures Act, Queen’s Counsel Act, Victims Restitution and Compensation Payment Act, and Referendum Act.
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the CJWE. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.