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Band-constable cuts opposed

NDP says plan puts public safety at risk

THE Manitoba government says a federal plan to stop funding band constables in 31 First Nations threatens public safety in those communities.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney informed the province and First Nations earlier this year Ottawa would cease funding its band-constable program as of March 31, 2015. The program has operated since 1969.

Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan said Sunday First Nations leaders are "very concerned" about the move.

Swan, addressing a resolution opposing the program cut at the Manitoba NDP's annual general meeting, said the move would effectively end front-line policing in many remote First Nations where there is no permanent RCMP presence. NDP delegates passed the motion unanimously.

Swan said while Ottawa has discussed the possibility of providing the province with equivalent funding -- $1.7 million a year -- to purchase police services, the solution has several drawbacks.

The province would only be able to hire the equivalent of about 15 Mounties with that money. With around-the-clock shifts, that means there would only be only about four additional officers on duty at any one time.

"You tell me how four officers on patrol are going to provide public safety to 31 First Nations across Manitoba including... remote First Nations that are not connected to a road network," Swan told the more than 400 party members attending the convention.

Another issue is the constables currently work under federal legislation that allows them to enforce band bylaws -- an area that is out of provincial jurisdiction.

"The Conservative government tells us they're about law and order. They may be about law, but they're certainly not about order," he told the crowd.

New Brunswick and Alberta have similar band-constable programs. Manitoba, because of the number of remote First Nations within its borders, would probably be the most severely impacted by the program cut, Swan said.

Swan said as well as enforcing local band bylaws, the constables assist the RCMP and can often "prevent situations from escalating" until the Mounties arrive.

A northern Manitoba delegate to the NDP convention said instead of eliminating the program, Ottawa should boost its funding. He said some communities hold bake sales and dip into their own funds to keep band-constable vehicles gassed up.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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