OTTAWA - A looming expiration date for First Nations police funding has many chiefs worried for the safety of their communities.
At midnight on March 31, public-service agreements funding First Nations policing will expire, leaving 26 communities in Quebec and Labrador in limbo.
The federal government hasn't indicated whether it plans to renew the funding, and has ignored requests to discuss the issue, native leaders said at a news conference Monday.
"There's nobody who could police our communities to the extent and effectiveness we do ourselves," said Chief Lloyd Phillips of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
The First Nations Policing Program supports policing services in First Nations and Inuit communities across the country. It came into force in 1991 and is funded by the federal government, province or territory and the community.
"I believe, in Canada, policing services are deemed to be an essential service with the exception of First Nations, where it is a program," Phillips said.
The chiefs want Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to commit to a minimum of one year's funding for the communities affected, and agree to larger discussions about policing on reserves.
In the House of Commons on Monday, Toews said he would be meeting with First Nations chiefs later that day to discuss policing programs.
"A finding decision on the program will be made in the near future," he added.
The federal government is currently exploring the most effective and sustainable policing models for First Nations communities, Jean Paul Duval, a Public Safety Canada spokesperson, said in an email.
Chiefs say they attempted to contact the minister for two years and received no response. Only weeks away from possibly losing their funding, the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador met in Ottawa to demand answers.
"If the minister is not going to fund us then he should say it instead of being vague," said Phillips.
After 30 years of policing his community, Gordon McGregor says he knows the value of a First Nations police force. As the chief of the police department on the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg reserve in Quebec, he says his force reflects the values of his community.
"We have a police force that is very professional and compassionate to our people, who can ensure our future is there," McGregor said.
He said provincial police forces, such as the Sûreté du Québec, don't work in First Nations communities because they're a big organization with a mandate to "catch the bad guys and bring them to jail."
First Nations policing is more focused on developing strategies to fix social issues, he said.
"The only way our issues are going to be resolved is if our community can police themselves."