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Quebec Indigenous community calling for its own police service

Some Quebec Indigenous communities patrolled by provincial police say the established system does not fully meet security requirements and needs improvement.

Constable Kyle Zachary has served his community as the Kahnawake Peacekeeper for 15 years.

Like almost every Peacekeeper in the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community of south Montreal, Zachary was born and raised in Kahnawake.

“The safety of our community is a priority. It’s important to us, you know, it’s not just the job, which might be the case with other police services,” he said. “There is definitely a deeper connection with a Peacekeeper to the community than I believe there would be for an SQ officer anywhere else.”

Kahnawake the Peacekeeper Constable Kyle Zachary. (CTV News/Daniel Rowe)

In Quebec, 23 indigenous communities have their own police services. Eleven are patrolled by the Surete du Quebec.

One is Kanesatake, Kahnawake’s sister community, Kanien’kehá:ka, about an hour northwest of Montreal.

Mohawk Council chief Victor Bonspille is one of those Indigenous leaders who don’t believe the established system works.

“It’s very difficult, it’s very frustrating and scary because we can’t rely on the Surete du Quebec, SQ, even though they were brought here to patrol Kanesatake after the Oka crisis, but they don’t.” he said.

Kanesatake set up a Perimeter Security Unit to work with the SQ, which improved some situations.

However, serious crime and traffic is the responsibility of the SQ and Bonspille said it takes far too long to respond to calls and they go very quickly.

“The SQ station is six kilometers from us, right where we are from the band office, and in some cases it takes them three or four hours to respond. Why?” he said.

He said the growing number of cannabis stores has attracted more traffic and crime from outside the community and has become unsafe.

As CTV News left Kanesatake, several men rushed toward the news van and one ran across Main Street and smashed the rear window.

A group of men in Kanestake attacked a CTV News Montreal van on January 17, 2023, smashing a window. (CTV News/Daniel Rowe)

“I told them this is the Wild West, it’s ridiculous. With all these misfits coming here for the cannabis and other activities, we need patrols, we need security,” Bonspille said.

The SQ told CTV News that the force is engaged in “developing preventive and partnership approaches, a need clearly articulated by the Indigenous constituency it serves.”

The SQ said that like many police forces, it faces a shortage of manpower, which is causing difficulties for patrols.

“Sûreté du Québec is particularly keen to educate its staff on the specifics of Indigenous clientele,” said SQ spokeswoman Ann Mathieu. “Civilian and police members benefit from a comprehensive training program on Indigenous issues that allows all members to contribute to efforts to achieve cultural security and autonomy demanded by this constituency.”

Former First Nations Chiefs of Police Association chief Dwayne Zacharie said many Indigenous communities in Canada feel the same way Kanesatake does about outside policing.

“For the vast majority, and as you’re hearing a lot now, it’s not working for them… In some cases, some First Nations communities don’t want the RCMP, the OPP, or the SQ to provide services in their community,” he said.

The reason lies in history.

“There was a time when police services were used to take children away to force them into boarding schools, there is trauma involved and there is a distrust and some of those services have not done a good job of rebuilding that at all to trust.”

The Viens Commission and a recent case by the Quebec Court of Appeals have highlighted serious problems that Indigenous communities in Quebec have had with police in the past, such as the mass slaughter of sled dogs by RCMP and SQ in Nunavik in the late 1950s and the alleged multiple sexual assault in Val d’Or, which led to the assignment.

“There is no doubt that this is a fundamental fact of the present case, explaining the need, even urgency, for First Nations to establish and manage their own police forces, and what the Defendants do.” [Quebec] cannot ignore when they pledge to support First Nations,” read the Marie-France Bich Court of Appeal’s Dec. 15 decision in favor of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan community.

The Kahnawake Peace Station. (CTV News/Daniel Rowe)

The Quebec Department of Public Safety told CTV News in an email that the force continues to work with the Assembly of First Nations Quebec Labrador (AFNQL) and the First Nations and Inuit Police Directors Association of Quebec (ADPPNIQ) to ” to achieve the common goals of sustainability, resilience and strengthening of the Aboriginal Police Services (APS).

The ministry is currently conducting a review of Indigenous police services in their communities to see what can be improved.

In Kanestake and Kahnawake, many residents have vivid memories of the summer of 1990, when SQ officers stormed protesters in the Pines and started the Oka Crisis.

“It left deep scars. We’re still healing from it. Our community and the people involved, families and young children who were only five, six years old at the time and are now adults, remember. So much was embedded in her memory and in her thoughts that day,” said Bonspille.

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