[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
Alberta's aboriginal police forces have come under attack in a report that condemns them for sloppy investigative techniques, inadequate hiring standards and poor management.
After the report's release yesterday, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said he would be prepared to suspend native police forces involved in serious wrongdoing. "If there is something fundamentally wrong and there's criminal activity within a police force... appropriate action would be taken to suspend that police department and bring it back into line," Mr. Klein said.
The report was prepared by Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA Mike Cardinal at the request of Justice Minister Jon Havelock. Mr. Cardinal spent a year investigating reserve policing and spoke with RCMP police officers, native chiefs and community leaders.
The report paints a dismal picture of policing on Alberta reserves; problems range from inadequate training to political interference. It comes amid complaints about the running of Canadian reserves, from mismanagement to fraud -- including the alleged misappropriation or misuse of tax dollars by reserve leaders.
According to the report, most aboriginal police have been totally inadequate to deal with those problems -- or even far less serious ones. Mr. Cardinal concludes that many of Alberta's 67 native police officers lack the skills and are not capable of properly investigating criminal cases or dealing with problems on their reserves. "A number of officers are personally unsuitable, many were poorly trained, and very few have received appropriate ongoing training," the report says. "...The participants in this review have come to the conclusion that first nations police services in Alberta are in some cases not providing a satisfactory level of policing."
Mr. Cardinal said the problems documented in his report were less important than the poverty that afflicts most reserves. "The issue of ongoing poverty, unemployment and welfare dependency is the major issue that needs to be dealt with," he said. "The policing itself is a minor problem -- it's a symptom of the overall problem."
The criticisms of native policing echo those made by many natives, including members of several reserves in Alberta who have asked for probes into their bands' finances. Among them is the Samson Cree, an Edmonton-area reserve that was recently documented in a recent Globe and Mail investigation that revealed questionable financial practices -- including more than $43.5-million in loans to band members.
Critics have said that poor policing has allowed such problems to fester. "Basically, they're just security guards," said Roy Littlechief, a former chief at the Siksika Reserve who now leads a watchdog group called Aboriginals for Financial Accountability. "They don't know how to investigate. They have no training, they have no power, and they have no authority." Mr. Littlechief said unchecked corruption has deepened the social ills of many reserves. "The immediate problem today is corruption. If we can deal with that, everything else will fall in place," he said.
The report also found that political interference made it hard for aboriginal police to do their jobs.
Mike Scott, native affairs critic for the federal Reform Party, said political interference with police activities is common on reserves. His office recently received a complaint from an aboriginal police officer who says he was fired after he began asking questions about the dealings of the chief and council on his reserve, Mr. Scott said, adding that similar complaints have been made in virtually every province, including Ontario.
Sue Olsen, native affairs critic for the Alberta Liberal Party, said aboriginal police forces need increased funding. "They need support. If we're not prepared to give it, then we might as well not have a police force at all."
"Sometimes there is political interference in the selection process."
"A number of officers are personally unsuitable, many were poorly trained, and very few have received appropriate ongoing training."
"Meaningful and profound change is needed to ensure that first nations communities receive a satisfactory level of policing."
"Some first nations police services are not providing a satisfactory level of service to the communities they are mandated to protect. Flawed basic assumptions, implementational difficulties and insufficient accountability are sapping the strength of these organizations and causing them to falter."
"It is the responsibility of Alberta, the first nations and Canada to take the lead in remedying the problems which have given rise to the present low levels of performance among some first nations police services."
"First nations police services will not survive just because they are a good idea."