Fight on for police service

Heather Latter

Despite the fact that local Treaty Three police officers received word last week that the Treaty Three Police Service board will be shutting down and laying off all of their officers within 45 days, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents the officers, and public supporters are not going to accept the closure without a fight.
“The Treaty Three Police Service isn’t going anywhere,” stressed Mike Bennett, president of Local 00410, last night at a public brainstorming session hosted by the union, where close to 50 supporters showed up.
“We cannot and will not let that happen . . . Now more than ever, we’ll need to remain solid and united together,” he continued. “This is a time of grave concern, but it is not a time for fear. It’s a time to stay strong in our beliefs . . .
“This is a time to stand up for ourselves,” he added. “We believe that the public is on our side. We believe momentum is growing to save the Treaty Three Police Service.
“We believe we can put enough pressure on the chiefs of our communities to do the right thing, but it is going to take the efforts of everyone in the room and the efforts of our friends, family to keep this momentum going,” Bennett emphasized.
The board informed the union in a letter dated July 4 that their actions had left them with “no choice” but to direct the Chief of Police “to begin engaging the governments and the Ontario Provincial Police to begin assuming policing responsibilities for [their] communities.
“We are forced to begin developing an exit strategy and our management team will ensure that all our employees are notified of the impending layoffs and closure of our police service,” it added.
The board indicated the decision to shut down the police service is based on the union’s response to the demands they were given during a meeting with the region’s First Nations chiefs last month.
The union requested four items:
•a commitment by the board to discuss the problem and possible solutions without threats or ultimatums;
•that the board abide by collective agreement which is being violated by cuts to wages and benefits;
•that the board withdraw its jurisdictional challenge to the certificate and enter into an agreement with the union to abide by the decision rendered in the current Nishnawbe-Aski Police Services case; and
•that the receive a full audit with explanations of why some budgets were overspent in 2012-2013.
While the union claims that chronic under-funding by the federal government continues to be the primary issue facing First Nations program, such as policing, it seemed talks between the two groups focused on wages and benefits.
However, the union is adamant that officer salaries were not the cause of the shortfall.
Yet, they are hopeful the decision to close the Treaty Three Police Service will be reversed.
“I’m extremely hopeful,” voiced Sharon DeSousa, the union’s regional executive vice-president, in an interview yesterday. “I think if the community is really the focal point on both sides, I think we can come to an understanding of how to proceed forward.
“But I think it will take an open and a willingness to listen on each other’s part,” she added.
The brainstorming session saw ideas such as a writing letter campaign to the governments, a conflict resolution process, an audit on services, and a meeting with leadership.
Some also want a forensic audit completed—and a few didn’t stop short to point the finger at the Chief of Police as to the mismanagement of money.
The session also some area chiefs attend.
Chief Gary Allen of Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation pointed out that chiefs shouldn’t be sitting on the police services board.
He also noted that at a previously scheduled Grand Council Treaty Three meeting yesterday, the chiefs agreed to an open forum meeting with police officers at the annual general meeting on July 23 in Kenora.
Support also was offered up by the Grand Council Treaty Three Women’s Council.
“We support that an internal review process be implemented and communicated,” voiced Judy Morrison. “The Women’s Council supports that response times, standards in training, transparency, accountability, and sustainability mechanisms that need meaningful attention . . .”
She noted the Women’s Council demands First Nations Chiefs, governments, and communities must work together to retain the police service.
“Our citizens have a right to live in safe and healthy communities,” added Morrison.
“Right now, we are just mobilizing our members and working with community organizations to ensure that the police services stay open,” DeSousa expressed. “The community has been loud and clear that they do want a culturally sensitive police service, as opposed to having OPP come in.”
She added their next step is that they are hoping to meet with area chiefs and to have “an open and honest conversation on how we move forward, where we can create a win-win situation.”
She indicated a letter has been sent and the union is hoping for a response soon to set up a meeting.
In the meantime, people throughout the region are showing their support for the Treaty Three Police Service.
About 40 people showed up to a meeting in Kenora on Monday night to brainstorm ideas on how to prevent the closure of the police force and a second meeting is scheduled for tonight.
Another 1,196 have joined a Facebook group called “Save the Treaty 3 Police Service.”
“It would be a great loss to our town and surrounding area to lose these police,” one person expressed on the page. “We need them and want them as they are the helping hand and protector of our aboriginal peoples.”
An online petition to save the police force also had 297 signatures as of press time today and paper copies of the petition have been distributed to most of the area communities.
A rally is also being planned in Kenora for July 23 to coincide with the Grand Council Treaty Three annual general meeting.