The Alberta government has introduced proposed changes to the province’s Police Act which would expand the powers of First Nations police forces.
The changes are part of a number of proposed amendments under the Justices Statutes Amendment Act, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said Wednesday.
First Nations police forces have been in place in Alberta for up to two decades, Madu said, but they haven’t received the credit they deserve for the work they’ve done in Indigenous communities.
“They can be much more sensitive to local issues and cultures,” Madu said.
Although First Nations police are recognized through an exemption in the current act, the amendment would give them the same status as city forces in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
“One of the ways by which this is significant for First Nations policing is by acknowledging that they are a bona fide police service within the framework of policing in our province,” Madu said.
“There is no question that this amendment would increase the stature of First Nations police services and commissions within the framework of policing in our province. It would put them on the same level with municipal police services.”
Madu said First Nations police officers would be able to issue tickets for infractions on their reserves.
“There has been some difficulty with First Nation police services being able to enforce their bylaws. With this amendment, they would be able to issue a ticket and go to the courts to enforce them,” he said.
“It is one problem we have heard time and time again from our First Nations people.”
Watch below: Some Global News videos about First Nations police in Alberta.
The proposed legislation would also give First Nations police chiefs a spot at the discussion table about changes to policing in the province.
There are currently three First Nations forces in Alberta: the Blood Tribe Police Service in southern Alberta, the Lakeshore Regional Police Service northwest of Edmonton and the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service just outside Calgary.
“The Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service has operated since 2004 and meets all provincial policing standards and duties.
“I commend the minister and his government colleagues for fully recognizing the Tsuut’ina and all First Nation police agencies in the amended Police Act,” Chief Roy Whitney Onespot said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the Blood Tribe Police Service said that since it was created, it has faced inequities that have made it hard to offer “the community with the service they deserve and our employees with the support they require.”
“We have not had access to the same resources or opportunities as our policing partners and we are significantly underfunded in comparison,” the statement reads. “Recognition under the Alberta Police Act empowers us to govern ourselves and it will provide a sense of stability and security, to the hardworking people of our organization and to the community.
“Today’s announcement regarding Bill 38 is the result of much hard work and the first step towards equity for Indigenous police services.
“We look forward to future work with all levels of government.”
Other changes would allow the courts to send juror summonses electronically, including by email, and eliminate a summons form.
They would also expand the list of offences subject to civil forfeiture under the Victims Restitution and Compensation Payments Act.
“This change will further deter crime as well as provide a source of new money, which will support police training and fund community crime prevention organizations and victims of crime initiatives,” said Madu.
Blood Tribe Police Inspector Farica Prince said the proposed changes are a strong first step to address systemic inequality.
“The great thing about this is that this is also what systemic change looks like,” Prince said Wednesday.
“This is a measurable, tangible change for reparations of 30 years of being marginalized.”
Tsuut’ina Nation Police officials hope it sends a message to the federal government that First Nations police services are on par.
“We have the same training that’s required, we have the same qualifications and re-certifications, our standards and audits occur every two to three years like every other police service,” Tsuut’ina Nation Police Chief Keith Blake said Thursday. “And now we’re actually being recognized, and that means a great deal to our police officers, and I also believe it means a great deal to the community.”
The chief says they will continue to push for stable and equal funding.
“When you have upwards of 25-30 per cent less in funding, that doesn’t enable you to do some of the things that you’d want to do, whether that be in programming or prevention,” Blake said.
“We’re not asking for anything more but we’re certainly not wanting anything less.”
While First Nations police services do receive a set amount of funds per officer, Blood Tribe Police officials say they don’t benefit from municipal support or one-time funding for upgrades or projects the way other municipal forces do.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich and Emily Olsen