Status: First Reading Carried
Expected Timeline: Pushing for the Bill to pass before the Christmas break
Background & Current Status
Since February 2016, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) launched its province-wide consultations on the Strategy for a Safer Ontario (SSO). The province is now introducing Bill 175, the Safer Ontario Act, 2017 that will hold police accountable in many Ontario First Nation communities to the same standards as those in the rest of the province. This comprehensive public safety legislative package, if passed, would represent the largest policing transformation in a generation. Many of the proposed changes come from an independent review on police oversight in the province by Appeal Court Justice Michael Tulloch that was released earlier in the year.
If passed, the proposed bill would repeal and replace Ontario’s Police Services Act, 1990, amend the Coroners Act, 1990, and create, for the first time, a Missing Persons Act, 2017, and a Forensic Laboratories Act, 2017. In addition, two new acts would be created to enhance police oversight in Ontario, including the Policing Oversight Act, 2017, and the Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunal Act, 2017.
Ontario is strengthening the police oversight system by:
- Expanding and clarifying the mandates of the three oversight bodies
- Establishing strong penalties for officers who do not comply with investigations
- Setting strict timelines for investigations and public reporting
- Releasing more information about the results of investigations and disciplinary hearings by oversight agencies.
Ontario Attorney-General, Minister Naqvi asserts the new bill’s intent, “Our hope is that these changes will make people, no matter the colour of their skin, what neighbourhood they call home, or their mental-health status, feel protected and safe in their communities.”
Impact on First Nations
Bill 175 will enable First Nations to choose their policing service delivery mode, including the option to come under the same legislative framework as the rest of Ontario. This would ensure First Nations receive culturally responsive, sustainable, accountable, and equitable policing that has the flexibility to address specific community needs on their own terms. First Nations Communities may also choose to continue with their current policing framework.
Sited from a recent Globe & Mail article, NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler states, “Providing police services on reserves through program funding instead of through legislation is putting the lives of community members and officers at risk. What this new bill means,” he said, “is there is equity in Indigenous policing, not just in NAN territory but right throughout the province.”
The new act will create local police boards for the Ontario Provincial Police and allow First Nations police forces to create their own police services boards. The Coroners Act would be revamped to require a coroner’s inquest when a police officer kills a person through the use of force. A new Missing Persons Act would allow police to track cellphones or search homes, which they can do now only when a crime is suspected. This Missing Persons Act was recommendation 93 from the Inquest inquest into the deaths of seven first nations youth in Thunder Bay. Forensic labs would also need to get accreditation under a new standalone piece of legislation.
The act would also create an office of inspector general to oversee police forces and police service boards, with the power to investigate and audit them – to hold them accountable. Its leader must have intimate knowledge of mental-health and policing issues, MCSCS Minister Lalonde enforces.
Further details of the proposed changes under this new act for each aforementioned legislation piece can be found here.
Key Considerations Moving Forward
- A legislative basis for First Nations policing has been long overdue. Community safety and well-being backed by the rule of law will ensure that policing by First Nation police officers will be equitable to other police services in Ontario. However, not all communities will welcome this change and thus, reserve the right to choose not to partake under this new legislation.
- Cross jurisdictional implications
- The alignment of First Nation objectives with the rest of the province in regards to the various proposed changes and new pieces of legislation (e.g. Missing Persons Act and Policing Oversight Act, among others)
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day Statement on Introduction of Safer Ontario Act
(Toronto, November 6, 2017) First Nation policing in Ontario has a long storied history with some of the oldest and most experienced First Nations police services across Turtle Island. Despite the challenges posed by successive provincial and federal governments, our police services have survived as a result of strong leadership and the commitment of First Nation officers.
With the introduction of the Safer Ontario Act at Queen’s Park, we have taken another step forward in securing greater community safety within First Nation communities. Numerous inquests and inquiries regarding First Nations policing have been conducted over the years. All of which, including the landmark Ipperwash Inquiry, point to the glaring lack of, but much needed, legislative basis for First Nation policing. The Safer Ontario Act finally responds to this significant omission by enshrining in legislation a secure legal foundation for stronger safer First Nation policing and communities.
Finally, after the Chiefs in Assembly have passed 43 resolutions concerning First Nations policing and have worked tirelessly through decades of lobbying, First Nation police and communities will finally be provided with the same consideration and equitable treatment as the rest of the population across the province. No longer will officers have to operate in buildings without heat, be forced to attend service calls individually, but be able to count on a partner and feel secure in knowing they have the resources to operate properly and safely, and are compensated fairly.
We are proud to have partnered with Ministers Naqvi and Lalonde in reaching this critical juncture, and look forward to continuing the good work that the regionally representative Political Technical Table tirelessly dedicated themselves to. We commend the Ministers for demonstrating strong leadership on this file and for developing a strong partnership with First Nations police services and communities.
With the strong leadership provided by the province, we need to ensure that we are clear that this is a shared responsibility. The federal government needs to step up and match the province in its determination that First Nation policing services are essential services and deserve equitable treatment to their non-First Nation counterparts.
With this significant step forward, we can now look to preventative measures in order to eventually eliminate the need for increased policing and emergency services, allowing much needed resources to be focused on creating healthy, safe and sustainable communities.
I applaud the flexibility provided through the act as First Nation communities and police services will have the option to opt out of the legislation, based on the diverse approaches to sovereignty and jurisdiction across Ontario.
I look forward to continuing to work with the province through the regulation writing process and to further dialogue inclusive of First Nations leadership at end of month during the Leaders in the Legislature gathering.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day