By Benjamin Powless
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sixteen police officers from the Surete du Quebec are being “loaned” to four Cree communities as the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF) says it is operating with staffing levels of only 40%.
Four officers per community were assigned to Chisasibi, Mistissini, Waskaganish and Waswanipi throughout April. EEPF Interim Director Sherman Masty said they could remain in place for months until new recruits are trained and hired. Several officers from those communities were also relocated to smaller communities, he added.
“Police services across the country are having a difficult time with manpower shortages. The Eeyou Eenou Police Force is facing that exact challenge. At the beginning of March 2022, letters were sent to Chiefs and Councils to notify them of the situation. We ensured them that basic policing services were provided throughout Eeyou Istchee,” Masty said in a statement.
Under the Quebec Police Act, the Cree Nation can request additional services from the SQ if the “regional police force is unable to provide the services under its jurisdiction in all or part of the territory.”
Masty emphasized that this would not change policing services in the communities. Any interventions would be taken over by EEPF, except in the case of major incidents. He added that the EEPF has biweekly meetings with the SQ to assess how things are going with the new officers
Cree Nation Government Executive Director Bill Namagoose stressed that the SQ staff are present for night-time patrols only, at the request of the EEPF, and must be accompanied by a Cree officer.
“All policing institutions and academies are operating at 50% capacity because of Covid,” Namagoose said, noting that police academies are producing graduates at half their normal rates. That means policing graduates are going to the highest bidder, and that pay rates had to be increased to entice them to stay or join.
Namagoose also encouraged young people to consider a career in policing. “We don’t seem to have enough Cree police officers, Cree young people interested in police services, that’s why we have non-Cree in on a contractual basis. I encourage all our young people thinking of becoming police. The benefits are good, there’s an early pension plan, early retirement, all the benefits are there,” he said.
Masty said the decline in recruits is another casualty of the pandemic, while some officers employed in Cree communities chose to move south to be closer to family and friends.
He added that five new Cree police officers would be “in uniform” by the end of April, while 18 recruits began the new First Nations Police Technology program in March and could be in place by November. The program allows for two cohorts per year for the next four years, which she called a “great improvement.”
Benjamin Powless is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the NATION. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.