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Pikangikum expels OPP over misconduct allegations

First Nation north of Kenora expels OPP; Indigenous Services Canada apparently removes overnight nursing in response.
Dean Owen
Pikangikum First Nation Chief Dean Owen, in a screen grab from a Facebook Live address he made to his community on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Facebook)

PIKANGIKUM FIRST NATION – Pikangikum First Nation has expelled Ontario Provincial Police over allegations of misconduct by officers posted there.

Ten OPP officers posted in the community left on Friday as a result of a band council resolution, leaving First Nations police in charge of community safety.

In a statement issued Sunday, the First Nation said a recent incident had pushed concerns over the behaviour of officers that had existed for “many years” past the breaking point.

“Pikangikum needs to know about potential threats to our community, especially when that threat comes from the people we entrust to protect our members,” said Chief Dean Owen.

“This is not a course of action we take lightly and the consequences are far reaching. Trust between our organizations has been broken and has caused an unsafe situation within Pikangikum which can easily escalate.”

The First Nation did not detail the substance of the allegations in the release.

In a statement of its own on Sunday, the OPP said it took the allegations seriously and had involved the province’s police watchdog, but also declined to comment on the allegations.

“Due to allegations of misconduct involving OPP members, the OPP has proactively contacted Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which has invoked its mandate. As a result, the OPP cannot comment on those allegations.”

The force said it would be up to community leadership to welcome officers back, under the terms of the Ontario First Nations Policing Agreement (OFNPA).

“Any decision as to whether OPP members return to support community safety in Pikangikum ultimately rests with the Chief and Band Council. In the meantime, Pikangikum Police and First Nations Peacekeepers will be responsible for policing and community safety services until further notice.”

The departure of the police also caused Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to fly nurses out of the First Nation, located about 200 kilometres north of Kenora, on Saturday night.

“The result of these changes means that the community is left without access to 24/7 health services as the nursing staff is being flown out each night by Indigenous Services Canada in response to the developing situation,” read the statement from Pikangikum.

ISC disputed that characterization in a statement released Sunday night, saying plans were in place for delivery of health services via telehealth, referrals to neighbouring health authorities, or transporting emergency cases to nearby health facilities.

Details on those plans were not immediately available.

The department confirmed the decision to remove health care workers came in response to the expulsion of police, saying the health and safety of its staff was paramount.

“The community leadership required that all OPP officers leave the community resulting in a significant reduction of a police presence,” it stated. “As a result, the ISC primary care practitioners were evacuated.”

Primary care operations would continue during the day, the department said.

“Adjustments to nursing operations plans will be made according to the evolving situation in the community.”

MPP Sol Mamakwa, whose Kiiwetinoong riding includes Pikangikum, on Sunday said it was unacceptable to leave the community without adequate medical support during a pandemic.

The sudden departure of the nurses could be against their professional code of practice, he suggested.

He also voiced his support for an independent review of the misconduct allegations.

It’s not the first time OPP officers have been asked to leave the community, he pointed out, saying the force needed to work to rebuild trust.

Community members escorted OPP officers off the reserve in 2010, and in 2015 entered the detachment, causing damage to the building and police vehicles.

In its statement, the police force said it had “a history of supportive, respectful and positive presence in Pikangikum, including wholehearted support and advocating for stand-alone Indigenous policing services for Indigenous communities.”

A representative for Kenora MP Eric Melillo, who represents the First Nation federally, said he was "very concerned" by developments in the community and had reached out to Owen and ISC.

Owen called for immediate attention to the issue from government, saying OPP officers wouldn’t be welcomed back until that occurred.

“The OPP will remain expelled from the Community until we receive an acceptable response from government as the safety of our community members, especially our youth, hangs in the balance.”

Note: An earlier version of this article stated that OPP officers left Pikangikum Saturday. It has been updated to clarify that their departure came on Friday.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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