A study initiated by North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney has been examining law enforcement on first nations reserves.
According to a media release from Blaney, the House of Commons standing committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN) has concluded its study. The release stated the study heard from 35 witnesses over the last six weeks including Komok’s First Nation hegus Nicole Rempel, Campbell River RCMP inspector Jeff Preston, and two representatives from the Tla’amin Nation: Derek Yang and Murray Browne.
The release stated that the study documented many challenges faced by first nations in enforcing their own bylaws and other applicable laws within reserve boundaries due to overly complex jurisdictional issues between federal and provincial governments, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), and various RCMP and provincial police detachments.
“Self-government and the rule of law are meaningless, empty slogans if first nation laws cannot be enforced,” stated Rempel in her opening statement. “In British Columbia, the RCMP will generally not enforce first nation laws because the provincial prosecution service will not prosecute offences under first nation law, whether they are bylaws under the Indian Act, Land Code laws, or laws enacted by treaty nations. This is because they are not enactments for the purposes of provincial law.”
While Tla’amin enacted a treaty with provincial and federal governments five years ago, the nation continues to face similar challenges, the release stated.
“Under provisions under the Indian Act, as well as the First Nations Land Management Act, we do not have powers to continue or to adopt,” stated community services director Derek Yang. “We currently don’t have the ability to be able to enforce our own laws and have court oversight.”
Throughout the study, representatives of first nations echoed these frustrations and called for assurances that local police be empowered and directed to enforce first nation laws. The committee also heard testimony about the importance of effective relationships between first nations and local RCMP, and the challenges of overcoming historic mistrust, according to the release.
“When you have a breakdown in that relationship like we’ve had in the past due to the enforcement of unpopular or unjust laws like the residential schools, it takes a long time to start building up those relationships,” said Preston.
The committee’s examination of the challenges to law enforcement on first nations reserves was the first time parliament formally studied the issue. A report of the study will be produced and tabled in the House of Commons by the end of the current session.
“I’m really pleased INAN undertook this study, and that members of our communities were able to present and speak to these issues so well,” stated Blaney. “As we work towards true reconciliation and nation-to-nation relations, there are so many details like this that were never considered in the Indian Act, but need to be resolved going forward.”
Once the chair of the committee has tabled the report in the House of Commons, the government is mandated to provide a response within 120 days.