Written by Sharon Singh, Scott Bower, Andrea Froese and Jonathan McKay
Alberta will expand the powers of First Nations police services (FNPS) and officers and formally recognize FNPS as having equal status to other municipal police forces when it passes a bill currently before the Legislature. Bill 38, the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2020, was introduced on October 21, 2020, and passed its first reading in the Legislature of Alberta. If Bill 38 receives Royal Assent, it will, following proclamation, amend six pieces of legislation including the Police Act, Jury Act, Queen's Counsel Act, Provincial Offences Procedures Act, Referendum Act and Victims Restitution and Compensation Act.
A brief summary of the history of Alberta's FNPS and a review of Bill 38's mechanisms will highlight emerging trends related to the modernization of police services including increased partnerships between law enforcement and Indigenous communities.
Background: First Nations Police Services
Most FNPS began operations after the introduction of the federal government's First Nations Policing Program (FNPP) in 1992. The FNPP was created to address concerns arising from inconsistencies related to policing services in Indigenous communities, including insufficient crime prevention, high crime rates (particularly violent crime) and gaps in constable training.
The FNPP sought to enhance Indigenous community policing services and support culturally responsive policing by facilitating self-administered Tripartite Policing Agreements (TPA). TPAs are executed between an Indigenous community (or communities) and both the federal and provincial governments. Under a TPA, the federal and provincial governments share policing costs and allow the community to establish their own police force subject to provincial regulations and legislation. In the absence of a TPA, the RCMP or other police service will provide these services. There are currently three independent FNPS in Alberta: the Blood Tribe Police Service; the Tsuut'ina Nation Police Service; and the Lakeshore Regional Police Service.
In its current form, the Provincial Offences Procedure Act authorizes police officers—as defined by the Police Act—to issue violation tickets for offences under an enactment. An "enactment" is defined as any Act, regulation, order or bylaw enacted in relation to any matter over which the Legislature has legislative authority. At present, FNPS members do not qualify as police officers, nor do Indigenous community bylaws qualify as enactments.
Bill 38 will amend the Police Act to include FNPS in its definition of police services and include members of FNPS in its definition of police officers. Bill 38 also seeks to expand the definition of enactment in the Provincial Offences Procedure Act to include bylaws made by a council of a First Nation band under the authority of the Indian Act for the purposes of summons violation tickets and offence violations tickets. These changes provide FNPS with similar authority to enforce provincial offences and local bylaws as enjoyed by other municipal police services.
Bill 38 will also amend the Police Act to include FNPS chiefs within the statutory framework in terms of duties and responsibilities and define what factors must be present for an agreement to qualify as an FNPS agreement, mirroring the existing TPA structure.
Alberta's Police Act is currently under review with significant focus being placed on the issues of governance and civilian oversight, Indigenous policing, and the role of police, generally. Bill 38 seeks to formally recognize FNPS, highlighting the new partnerships and collaboration amongst governments and Indigenous communities. We expect the FNPS model to continue to be adopted in other communities across Canada.