Decisions to change policing in Nunavik belong to its regional leadership, Makivik says

“When you have a police chief making a sort of threat, it’s not his place”

The Kativik Regional Police Force’s Kuujjuaq station and headquarters. The police force’s funding agreement with Quebec and Ottawa expired last April. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

By SARAH ROGERS

(Updated at 4:20 p.m.)

KUUJJUAQ—Makivik Corp. President Charlie Watt says any changes to how policing is delivered in Nunavik should be made by Nunavik Inuit themselves.

Watt spoke before the Viens commission on Friday, Nov. 23, one day after the Kativik Regional Police Force chief testified at the same hearings to lament delayed, ongoing negotiations to secure the force’s new funding agreement.

“If we don’t get an agreement by the end of the year, I will have to ask the [Sûreté du Québec] to take over public security in Nunavik,” KRPF chief Jean-Pierre Larose told hearings on Nov. 22. “It’s that severe at this point.”

But Watt said that’s not his decision to make.

“When you have a police chief, making a sort of threat, it’s not his place,” Watt told the commission.

“[The KRPF] is supposed to be supporting the municipalities … and that is not what is happening today,” Watt said.

“They’re supposed to be operating under the direction of the municipalities and the regional government.”

In fact, the Kativik Regional Goverment leads those negotiations and signs any agreement related to the KRPF’s operations, the regional government confirmed in a Nov. 25 statement to Nunatsiaq News.

The organization noted, however, that the chief of the KRPF also has the full authority to call in the SQ if he feels public security is threatened.

“But we’re not there yet,” the KRG said. “We support chief Larose and we’re confident we’ll have an agreement soon.”

Leaders express disappointment in police services

Watt’s comments come as Nunavimmiut have aired a number of frustrations with police services and interactions with KRPF officers.

The Viens commission hearings, which are looking at how Indigenous groups in Quebec interact with certain government services, have heard a number of Nunavik testimonies alleging police misconduct.

A recent APTN report found the KRPF has the highest civilian death rate of any force in Quebec.

The independent agency that investigates police-related deaths and injuries, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, has already launched six investigations in Nunavik communities in 2018 alone.

The KRPF was formed as an Indigenous police force in 1995 to replace the Sûreté du Québec, which used to police Nunavik’s 14 communities.

But with a 50 per cent Inuit workforce in its early days, the KRPF today counts just three Inuit officers out of a workforce of 68.

“At one point, we were very proud of it,” Watt said. “It turned out to be very different.”

Joining Watt at the hearing on Nov. 23 was Johnny Adams, chair of First Air. Adams was an executive member of the Kativik Regional Government in the early 1990s who helped negotiate the agreement that saw the creation of the KRPF in 1995.

“When we had the vision and the drive to create our own police force, we had a lot of expectations,” Adams told the hearings.

“We had difficulties, but we built it from nothing, basically, to what it is today. This was not what we envisioned when we created the police force.”

Statistics don’t bode well for where the force has come, Adams said, pointing to the over 11,000 criminal charges laid last year in a region with a population of roughly 12,000.

Adams said policing in Nunavik needs to take a more humane approach, recognizing the barriers Inuit face rather than penalizing them even more. He urged police officers to work with the communities they’re serving.

“Most of these [offenders] have a difficult time getting a job,” Adams told the hearing.

“If you’re on an undertaking not to drink and you’re an alcoholic, it’s pretty hard not to drink. Alcoholism is stronger than a court order.”

Conduct aside, the KRPF have been in negotiations with Quebec and Ottawa for months to renew their tripartite funding agreement, which expired last April. The force is funded 52 per cent federally and 48 per cent provincially.

Without that agreement, KRPF chief Larose said the force’s funding has completely dried up, while it relies entirely on temporary KRG financing to stay in operation.

While Larose’s threat to pull policing from the region may have simply been a negotiation tool, Adams said he was “shocked” to hear it.

“It should be the elected officials that are making those statements,” he said.

“It’s not going to solve anything. We have to work together with the police … to turn this around.”

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