MONTREAL — First Nations in northern Quebec are calling on the province and the federal government for more funding for Indigenous police forces, following an appeals court decision in favour of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan First Nation on the issue.
In a judgment rendered Dec. 15, the court agreed that the First Nation located in Quebec's Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region was owed $1.6 million from Quebec and Ottawa to cover years of underfunding of its police force.
The court ruling confirms the long-standing position of First Nations communities that the provincial and federal governments are systematically underfunding Indigenous police forces, Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, said in an interview.
"At the end of the day, our police forces are responsible for enforcing the same laws and ensuring the same public safety," Picard said. "Why shouldn't we be funded at the same level as other police services?"
Picard said that members of Indigenous police forces are incentivized to leave and pursue careers in better-paying police services across the country.
"Ensuring peace and order comes at a cost," Picard said. If the community is not able to assume this cost, it is certain that the police service as such will suffer, in the same way as the public safety of the members of our communities."
Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation Chief Gilbert Dominique says the situation is an example of systemic racism toward Indigenous Peoples in Quebec.
"The judgment demonstrates that First Nations are best suited to identify the real needs of their communities," he said in a statement.
The three-judge Court of Appeal panel voted unanimously to overturn the 2019 Superior Court decision. Appeal Court Justice Jean Bouchard, writing for the panel, concluded that the federal government and Quebec had "acted dishonourably" in the case.
The defendants had argued that the services of Quebec's provincial police force were free for Indigenous communities, but reports showed that the police force was poorly adapted to the specific cultural needs of Indigenous Peoples.
"By remaining deaf to the grievances of the plaintiff who, rather than using the provincial police, accepted to be served by a police force of lesser quality, the defendants violated their obligation to act with honour," Bouchard wrote.
In Quebec City, the province's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, Ian Lafrenière, said his department would review the court ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Stéphane Rolland, The Canadian Press