POLITICS
04/03/2012 02:03 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba First Nations cite no consultation in court bid to handcuff police deal

WINNIPEG - Aboriginal leaders in Manitoba are taking the provincial and federal governments to court, saying the governments had no right to sign a new RCMP services agreement without consulting First Nations.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is asking judges in Federal Court and Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench to stop the governments from implementing the policing deal, which renews RCMP services across the province for the next 20 years.

"Currently, we're experiencing increased crime rates — homicides, drug and alcohol-related crimes, domestic violence and gang activity is increasing in our communities," assembly Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said Tuesday.

"We want to see more of our own people providing policing services. We want to see capital investment in infrastructure."

Nepinak and other chiefs outlined a list of complaints about RCMP services in remote areas. Some communities have no detachments, leaving victims of crime to wait 90 minutes or more to have an officer arrive on scene. There is also a lack of cultural sensitivity to how First Nations approach the justice system, the chiefs said.

"Our concept of justice means restoring peace and equilibrium in communities by reconciling the offender with their conscience and victims and the victims' families," Nepinak said.

"Whoever is policing the First Nations ... may be doing a good job putting (people) behind bars, but the whole essence of policing — the peace officer — is to educate the young," added David Harper, grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents 30 northern communities.

The chiefs say the province is required to consult with First Nations about policing because the Constitution recognizes the right of aboriginals to self-determination.

"This means the internal development and control over criminal law, including the full scope of policing powers," the assembly says in the court documents filed Tuesday.

The Manitoba government said Tuesday it had not yet seen the court application.

"As yet we haven't been served with the lawsuit and will review it when we are. Our view is that the province has acted appropriately," Jodee Mason, a spokesperson for Attorney General Andrew Swan, said in a written statement.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chief has been pressing for more aboriginal police forces such as the Dakota Ojibway Police Service, which serves five aboriginal communities in southern Manitoba. In Ontario, nine regional aboriginal police forces cover 94 communities.

The RCMP agreement signed by Manitoba and the federal government was one of several reached last month to renew RCMP services in provinces where the Mounties are the main police force. The previous 20-year deal expired March 31.

The new deals maintain a funding formula that sees the provinces pay 70 per cent of RCMP costs, with the federal government picking up the remainder.