Saskatchewan stabbings spark Indigenous policing deal


Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he had a heavy and difficult visit with the families of those killed in a mass knife attack in Saskatchewan before signing an agreement to explore new ways to improve the security of some First Nations in the province.

“It is a cornerstone of reconciliation that policing for Indigenous peoples by Indigenous peoples is at the very heart of the work we do today,” Mendicino said Monday at the Grand Council annual meeting. of Prince Albert.

Eleven people were killed and 18 injured in knife attacks last month on James Smith’s Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, northeast of Saskatoon.

Myles Sanderson, 32, the suspect in the attacks, later died in police custody.

Mendicino visited the First Nation Monday morning and said the grief was still palpable. But, he added, there was also strength and perseverance.

“It will take hope, but it will also take hard work if we are to break the cycle,” he said.

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns echoed his earlier calls for Ottawa to help his community establish its own police force. He said finding solutions would be a step towards healing.

“How are we supposed to deal with all of this?” He asked. “How are we supposed to move together?”

The agreement between the Grand Council, the Government of Saskatchewan and Ottawa creates a collaborative working relationship to find community-based ways to deliver policing services.

Mendicino said the intent is to put in place building blocks to create self-administered First Nations policing programs.

He did not say how long it would take to establish police services in the communities.

He hopes it will be five to 10 years in the making. It should be up to communities, with the support of governments, to choose the pace, he said.

“We really have to be ready to work with communities,” Mendicino told The Canadian Press.

Big changes happen in small steps, said Saskatchewan Public Safety Minister Christine Tell. She said the recent James Smith tragedy shows how public safety in Indigenous communities requires work from all levels of government.

First Nations leaders said plans must be tailored to each community.

Under the new agreement, a team is to begin talking in early winter with residents of the 12 First Nations and 28 Grand Council communities. The results would be used to design and cost a feasibility study under the federal government’s First Nations and Inuit Policing Program.

This program, created in 1991, funds Aboriginal policing, cost-sharing between the provinces and the federal government. It has been criticized for underfunding these services and not being accessible to nearly a third of First Nations and Inuit communities.

There are 35 First Nations police services across the country, including one in Saskatchewan. The File Hills Police Service serves five First Nations communities in eastern Saskatchewan.

Mendicino is pushing for legislation that would declare Indigenous policing an essential service. However, he reneged on his commitment to table it in the fall.

He said he wants to introduce the legislation as soon as possible, but it must also keep pace with communities and be subject to consultation.

“We need to be sure that when communities call for help, they get it, no matter where you live.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 17, 2022.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon