Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police won’t be headed to Pikangikum First Nation, after Kenora MP Eric Melillo called on the federal government to intervene in the community’s policing crisis.
“I know the province is working to exhaust all of the options they have to determine long-term policing solutions,” says Melillo. “Pikangikum has asked for RCMP assistance in the interim. It’s unfortunate that the government has ruled it out, but I won’t stop pressing them on that.”
Melillo, who also serves as the Shadow Minister for FedNor and Northern Development, had called on Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to bring RCMP personnel into the community after Pikangikum Band Councillors voted to expel the OPP after allegations of ‘incidents involving constables that occurred in the community over many years’ on March 20.
Indigenous Services Canada then made the decision to have their nursing staff removed from the community each night before returning in the morning due to the lack of police presence. This briefly left the community without 24/7 health services, a pressing issue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Independent First Nations Alliance, which represents five First Nation communities in the area, provided temporary, emergency health services to the community each night until health services were restored.
But after leadership met with Indigenous Services Canada and Minister Marc Miller last weekend, ISC’s nursing staff have been reinstated to the community and are providing 24/7 health services once again.
“I’m relieved to see 24/7 nursing services has returned to Pikangikum, but there’s still a great need for policing,” adds Melillo. The RCMP needs to step up to keep residents of Pikangikum safe. I believe that they have every jurisdictional right and they have a duty as the federal government to step in at times like this.”
In a prepared release from the community, Pikangikum Chief Dean Owen welcomed the nurses back to the community, and thanked them for their work in keeping community members safe, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Owen adds talks with the province regarding the removal and potential return of the OPP continue, but a satisfactory solution hasn’t been found.
Kenora-Rainy River MPP and Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford says he’s spoken with Chief Owen and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler on the issues at-hand, and further discussions with community leaders are expected to continue.
Rickford has said Pikangikum has requested the formalization of a community-based Pikangikum Police Service, a similar model to the Lac Seul Police Service.
Pikangikum is currently policed under the provincial First Nations Policing Agreement by First Nation constables, who are employed by the community and supported by the OPP. The OPP administers the agreement on behalf of the federal and provincial governments, as well as the community.
The Pikangikum First Nation community is located roughly 200 kilometres north of Kenora, with a reported population of about 4,000 members.