Evidence of meeting #36 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was rcmp.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Robert Louie  Chairman, First Nations Lands Advisory Board
Heidi Cook  Misipawistik Cree Nation, First Nations Land Management Resource Centre
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Naaman Sugrue
Leroy Daniel Denny  Eskasoni First Nation, Eskasoni Band Council
Doris Bill  Kwanlin Dün First Nation
Chief Garrison Settee  Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.
Michael Anderson  Policing and Public Safety Advisor, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.
Andrew Beynon  Director, Land Governance, First Nations Land Management Resource Centre

May 25th, 2021 / 12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Thank you.

Now that I have you on the hot seat, I'll ask you a question as well.

If I was understanding you correctly—and please correct me if I am wrong—part of the issue your organization sees is that first nations safety officers aren't considered peace officers when enforcing band bylaws. I'm just wondering if you could speak to that in a little more detail, and on how that framework, for lack of better word, impacts the day-to-day life of the safety officers.

12:15 p.m.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee

Thank you so much.

Can I defer this to Mike Anderson, who has been working on that file, please?

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Sure.

12:15 p.m.

Policing and Public Safety Advisor, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Michael Anderson

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.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thank you. I'm surprised that our recommendations are being put into effect before we've even finished the study.

12:20 p.m.

Policing and Public Safety Advisor, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Michael Anderson

I would just add, Mr. Chair, that it's due to Grand Chief Settee's insistence and his personal relationship with Manitoba's Minister of Justice, Cameron Friesen. We've been able to collaborate very closely with them with open and frank dialogue. They heard the Grand Chief clearly, I'm happy to say.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks so much.

Pam Damoff, you have five minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thanks, Chair.

I'll start by acknowledging that I'm on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation here in my riding of Oakville North—Burlington.

Chief Louie, if I'm not mistaken, the pilot project you mentioned deals with environmental protection laws, and we haven't heard anything about that. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that pilot.

12:25 p.m.

Chairman, First Nations Lands Advisory Board

Chief Robert Louie

Thank you very much, Ms. Damoff.

I would like to defer this question to my colleague Andrew Beynon, if that's all right. He's been working quite a bit on this project.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Yes. That's fine.

12:25 p.m.

Chairman, First Nations Lands Advisory Board

12:25 p.m.

Andrew Beynon Director, Land Governance, First Nations Land Management Resource Centre

Thank you, committee members, and thank you for the question.

The Saskatchewan pilot project led by the Whitecap Dakota and Muskoday First Nations is really quite interesting. As Chief Louie mentioned, tomorrow we'll be holding our national online conversation, a recorded event, for which MPs, the public, federal officials, first nation officials, provincial officials—everyone—is welcome to register. As part of that, individuals who are directly involved will be speaking to what they are achieving right now. I don't want to take away too much of their thunder, but having said that, I would offer two points.

One is that there is a lot of work somewhat similar to this issue of first nation safety officers in the pilot project. In Saskatchewan, they're referring to them as community safety officers and are trying to work out with clarity the scope of their authority to enforce the first nation laws of Muskoday and Whitecap Dakota and to work in partnership with provincial authorities.

In terms of environmental issues, I know that there has been concern expressed, particularly at Whitecap Dakota Nation, which is very close to the city of Saskatoon, with regard to environmental issues that affect the community. They have direct experience with situations of individuals carrying on businesses on the lands and causing significant contamination to reserve land.

Unfortunately, at least one of those situations was very difficult to control, and rather than it being prevented from happening, the environmental damage occurred on the lands. The Department of Indian Affairs, as it then was, provided some assistance to deal with the cleanup of the toxic damage on reserve lands. This was a failure in the enforcement of laws and a failure in being able to control and avoid environmental harm. We could ask Whitecap Dakota First Nation to follow up with you if you're interested.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Yes. I was actually going to ask about that. Since your meeting is tomorrow, perhaps they could submit something to the clerk so we could include it in the report.

12:25 p.m.

Director, Land Governance, First Nations Land Management Resource Centre

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Chief Bill, it's nice to see you again.

Obviously your community safety officer program is a model for the country. As my colleague Gary Vidal mentioned, you've come to the public safety committee, and I know you're doing a terrific job.

I think all of us sat horrified as Chief Denny talked about waiting 20 minutes or half an hour for the police to arrive on the scene to help a loved one, and he was forced to go in there himself as a result.

Chief Bill, I guess your community safety officers would not be responding to the kind of gunfire situation that he described. You would still be relying on the RCMP. Where is the disconnect between his experience in his community and what you're experiencing at Kwanlin Dün?

12:25 p.m.

Kwanlin Dün First Nation

Chief Doris Bill

Well, the CSOs don't have enforcement power—

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

It's hard to hear you, Chief Bill.

12:25 p.m.

Kwanlin Dün First Nation

Chief Doris Bill

I'm sorry. This is better. I was drinking coffee.

The CSOs don't have enforcement power. When we surveyed our citizens recently, they didn't want them to have enforcement power. It was interesting. I think that otherwise that trust would dissipate.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Do you experience the same issues that Chief Denny described?

12:25 p.m.

Kwanlin Dün First Nation

Chief Doris Bill

We do. What happens with us, because we're right in the city of Whitehorse and we're a small community, is that the RCMP do respond very quickly to those kinds of incidents. However, the CSOs work alongside the RCMP.

For instance, if a murder or something of that nature happens, the RCMP would focus on what they have to do and the CSOs would focus on the community, such as keeping the community away, keeping the area cordoned off and keeping the area safe.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

There would be mental health supports for the families, too, probably.

12:25 p.m.

Kwanlin Dün First Nation

Chief Doris Bill

Yes, and they ensure.... When the RCMP go, there's often a gap between the services, between the community and the RCMP. For instance, let's say a woman is sexually assaulted. The CSOs would ensure that they would get the services they need, the culturally relevant services they need.

The trust between the RCMP and the CSOs has really improved. The RCMP were very skeptical in the beginning, but now they see the value in it, and they give the highest recommendations when we talk about these services—

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Thanks, Chief. We're well over time.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Okay.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We will move to Madame Bérubé for two and a half minutes.