The first nations safety officers whom we have today originated as band constables under the former Public Safety Canada band constable program in or around 1965, so they've been providing first responder—in some cases, as the only responder—public safety services in our remote first nations particularly for all that period of time.
Between the onset of the program and the repeal of the Provincial Police Act in Manitoba on June 1, 2012, in their later years they had the powers and protections of a peace officer to do their duties. With the coming into force of the Police Services Act in Manitoba effective June 1, 2012, their peace officer authority was limited to only prescribed provincial enactments, and not even all of those enactments, so there was no clear authority for them to act as peace officers to enforce band bylaws, which became quite an issue.
Similar to the discussion on land code laws, RCMP officers would say that the first nations safety officers didn't have authority to enforce their band bylaws. Eventually the operating agreement—not the statute, but the operating agreement—was amended to recognize peace officer authority only when enforcing a paragraph 81(1)(c) bylaw, which is the observance of law and order. Of course, paragraph 81(1)(a) is the prevention of spread of infectious diseases and so on.
Grand Chief Settee firmly presented to Minister Friesen that we needed to have clear peace officer authority for our bylaw enforcement officials in order to enforce the full suite, the robust suite, of authority under subsection 81(1) and section 85.1 in particular.
The Manitoba government has, just within the last two weeks, agreed to amend the safety officer operating agreement to make it clear that they have peace officer authority when they're enforcing all band bylaws. We pointed out that it was necessary so that when the protocol is rolled out in Manitoba—which is happening today, by the way; there's a press conference after this session—it will be clear that the safety officers have full authority to enforce band bylaws for the first time since the dissolution of the band constable program in 2015.
Essentially, as I mentioned in my comments, you have to have peace officer authority to stop, search, seize and detain, and under section 103 of the Indian Act, only a peace officer can seize goods related to a violation of a subsection 81(1) or a section 85.1(1) bylaw, including an intoxicants bylaw, so if first nations safety officers seize alcohol, they have to be a peace officer. It's required by the Indian Act.
We wanted to bring all of this into alignment so that the actual duties they provide are protected.
I'd also point out that the former D Division commanding officer, Bill Robinson, described the role of our band constables at the time as first responders in the absence of the RCMP, so they were providing a policing function in the often extended absence of the RCMP, who only served some of our communities on periodic patrols that might be monthly. They're there the rest of the time, so it's essential that they have the proper authority to do their jobs and to uphold and enforce the law.