Officers with the OPP have returned to Pikangikum First Nation, but a provincial investigation into two sexual misconduct allegations will continue in the community.
Ten officers were expelled from the Pikangikum community nearly six weeks ago after a unanimously approved motion from Pikangikum’s Chief Dean Owen and band councillors on March 20, saying they became aware of ‘incidents involving constables that occurred in the community over many years'.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is continuing their investigation into the allegations, after immediately invoking their mandate in March. Anyone with information is asked to contact the SIU at 1-800-787-8529 or file the SIU’s Appeal for Witness form.
Due to the OPP’s initial departure, Indigenous Services Canada made the decision to have their nursing staff removed from the community each night before returning in the morning due to reported safety concerns, leaving them without health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we understand the government’s concern for the safety of their nurses, we have trouble understanding their safety versus the safety of 3,800 in-community members,” said Chief Owen, in a prepared release from the community.
The Independent First Nations Alliance, which represents five First Nation communities in the area, provided temporary health services to the community each night. But ISC nursing staff were reinstated to the community after a meeting with Minister Marc Miller on April 14.
“This experience has opened our eyes to several gaps in terms of policing, health care and first response services that unfortunately exist in Pikangikum, but not in municipalities of smaller populations,” notes Owen.
Kenora MP Eric Melillo had been calling on the federal government to support the community with officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but the request was denied by Ottawa and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on April 19.
But by April 27, discussions between the community and the OPP continued and the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Officers were then vetted by councillors and would later return to the community.
“That’s a very positive development,” said Melillo. “Chief Owen has been working very hard to find a solution that worked to address the policing concerns as well as the health concerns that arose from it. It’s definitely a positive that they were able to find a solution.”
However, the OPP’s return is contingent on certain conditions. Pikangikum has stressed those conditions include working in partnership with the Pikangikum Peacekeepers, a trained unit of community members developed due to the policing crisis, and providing the community with training to develop auxiliary police constables.
As well, Chief Owen re-affirmed their desire to create and formalize a community-based Pikangikum Police Service, operating under a similar model to the Lac Seul Police Service.
“Having our own police force has been Pikangikum’s objective from day one,” said Chief Owen.
“This incident has reaffirmed our resolve to build off the hard work and perseverance of the Pikangikum Peacekeepers and Security Force that had to fill in during the crisis. It is clear to us that the well-being and safety of our 3,800 community members must be community-driven.”
Kenora-Rainy River MPP and Indigenous Affairs Minister, Greg Rickford, has said discussions on formalizing a Pikangikum police service have taken place, but it would ‘take some time'.
“Pikangikum has requested that we work with community leadership to engage with their health providers and emergency response partners to ensure that the people of Pikangikum are protected, healthy and safe,” said the CEO of the Independent First Nations Alliance, Mathew Hoppe.
“The expectation is that Ontario and Canada will continue to support them to make these vital First Nations-led programs fully resourced and supported,” adds Hoppe.
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 OPP says they cannot comment on the situation due to the SIU’s ongoing investigation.
The Pikangikum First Nation community is located roughly 200 kilometres north of Kenora, with a reported population of about 3,800 members.