Native police station shuts down due to health, safety violations; Leaders issue plea for help

Timmins Daily Press
February 5, 2008 

One of Ontario's largest Aboriginal First Nations has been forced to close a main police detachment because it doesn't have running water, uses "medieval locks" and relies on a wood fire in a 45 gallon drum, the community's grand chief said Monday.

Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation said that's typical in a community where only one of the First Nation's 35 police detachments meets minimum building standards.

Police officers are taking their "lives into their own hands" by coming to work at detachments that are plywood fire hazards, infested with rodents and sit on crumbling foundation, he said.

"It's too dangerous," Beardy said.

"The makeshift holding cells don't even have toilets in them. They don't have running water. They have to use a slop pail."

The closure of the Kasabonika Lake First Nation means some prisoners are being flown to Sioux Lookout at a cost of up to $10,000 per trip, Beardy added.

The aging detachments on Nishnawbe-Aski Nation - made up of 49 First Nation communities covering two-thirds of Ontario - were left behind by the provincial police and need about $34 million to bring them all up to code, Beardy said.

The cost of policing is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial government. The First Nation has spent 10 years negotiating with the various levels of government but no cash has been sent to make the necessary renovations, Beardy said.

Two years ago, a fire at one of the police detachments in Kashechewan killed two prisoners and severely injured a police officer, he said. The situation is now turning into a "policing crisis," Beardy said.

"We are living in one of the richest countries and one of the richest provinces in the country," he said. "We should be able to access basic human rights like everybody else. Why is it that we're treated differently?"

It's not clear how much longer the community will be able to provide police service under these conditions, he said. The turnover at the community's 35 detachments is one of the highest in North America, he added.

Grand Chief Stan Louttit of the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council said the police detachment fire in Kashechewan was directly caused by the deteriorating state of the building.

"How many more people will die because the facilities that they were in did not meet basic standards?" asked Louttit in a community-made web video detailing the conditions in the police detachments.

The video shows police officers living in motel rooms because of the chronic shortage of housing, as well as a makeshift holding cell locked only by a piece of wood barring the door.

"All I can tell you is that we're taking it seriously."

Community Safety spokeswoman Laura Blondeau

A spokeswoman for Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said the matter is the responsibility of Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

Aides said neither Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant nor Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci were available for comment.

Laura Blondeau, Bartolucci's spokeswoman, said the province is taking the policing conditions seriously and has "ongoing discussions" with the First Nation.

"There are announcements that are quite imminent," Blondeau said, refusing to elaborate further.

See Timmins Daily Press for full story.