Anishinabek Police Service surveillance of communities and individuals engaged in land rights activism

By: Kaikaikons

Anishinaabek have our own forms of policing however like most of our own institutions this role in our communities has become compromised to benefit only the settler government. From the imposition of an Indian Agent and Indian Act Band Council that enforced restrictions over us to those who believe they are creating change by working in the colonial system are only helping to perpetuate the subjection of our rights and freedoms and criminalization of our People under Canada’s assumed jurisdiction.

Above: Partnership between AFN and RCMP. In a Feb 2013 article by the Toronto Star documents acquired through access to information requests, reveal that heads of the RCMP and Ontario and Quebec police met in the summer of 2007 for the “first time in history” with then AFN national chief Phil Fontaine to “facilitate a consistent and effective approach to managing Aboriginal protests and occupations.”

The RCMP’s heightened collaboration with the AFN coincided with the start of a sweeping federal program of surveillance of aboriginal communities and individuals engaged in land rights activism that continues today.


It is well documented by the mainstream media how the RCMP, CSIS, National Defense (Military) and Police Agencies have been spying on Indigenous People’s standing up for their rights and lands where these partnerships have even recruited what is now called the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs of Canada as well as the Assembly of First Nations.

Documents such as Project SITKA obtained through Freedom of Information and shared by the mainstream media in the past decade shows how Canada spies and develops plan’s on how to combat such Indigenous Protests with the help of Police Agencies where such Indigenous Peoples and communities are put in the same category by such agencies and labelled as domestic terrorists. This is type of activity and labeling creates an prejudice environment which contradicts why Canada’s First Nations Policing Policy in the early 1990’s was established in the first place.

The negative relations between non-Indigenous Police and Indigenous Peoples across Canada along with such actions such as the so called Oka Crisis in 1990 and reports like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stressed the need of First Nations to establish their own Police Force. The increasing political pressure to do something about Aboriginal policing led to the introduction of the First Nations Policing Policy in June 1991 by the federal government, after extensive consultation with the provinces, territories and First Nations across Canada.

The RCMP’s project SITKA which can be read by clicking the link below is one such document created on how to categorize, and profile Indigenous Peoples organizing to defend their rights and homelands.

First Nations Policing in Ontario

On March 30, 1992, a five year Ontario First Nations Policing Agreement was signed by Grand Council Treaty #3, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, A.I.A.I., Anishinabek Nation, Six Nations and the Provincial and Federal Government. In 1994, Garden River, Curve Lake, Sagamok and Saugeen First Nations were the original communities to form the Anishinabek Police Service. At this time it was also decided that Garden River would be home to Headquarters because geographically it is situated in the center of the province.

Above: APS LOGO. Anishinabek Police Service enforces Canada’s and Ontario’s Laws and not Anishinabe Laws nor help to defend Anishinabek when Canada breaks its own laws in relations to Indigenous Rights.


In 1996, a three year agreement was endorsed to include 13 more First Nations. In I997, two more First Nations joined the Police Service, bringing the total to 19 First Nations, spread over the province of Ontario. The Police Service has had many changes to the makeup of the member communities and currently sits at 16 member communities.

With the killing of Dudley George in 1995 an unarmed Anishinaabe Land Defender in Ontario there was again more political pressure on Police on how to respectfully engage in Policing Indigenous Peoples specifically at so called protests which was being advocated for by Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Peoples. In response in part to the Ipperwash Inquiry, special programs have been introduced, such as the OPP’s ART (Aboriginal Relations Team), MELT (Major Events Liaison Team). They were to operate within a Framework that emphasizes flexibility, relationship building, dialogue, knowledge and awareness of Aboriginal perspectives and culture, and the use of force only as necessary and as carefully measured

The Ontario Provincial Police also have a Framework for Police Preparedness for Aboriginal Critical Incidents https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiries/ipperwash/policy_part/projects/pdf/OPP_Appendix_E_Framework_for_Police_Preparedness.pdf

The OPP ART and MELT are now amalgamated and now the OPP’s Emergency Response Team.

Anishinabek Police Service spying for Canada?

In February to Mid March 2020, solidarity actions across Canada sprung up in support of the Wet’suwe’ten Nation’s battle to oppose a pipeline running though its territory. Nation wide roadblocks and actions from Indigenous and Settler communities started to catch momentum where Canada’s economy began to be disrupted by a railway blockade in Tyendinaga, Mohawk Territory in southern Ontario which played a key role in solidarity actions.

During this time the Anishinabek Police Service were attempting to gain information on potential threats that were in solidarity with the Wet’suwe’ten and Tyendinaga. Land Defenders and Anishinabe activists from Anishinabek communities in Ontario were approached by the Anishinabek Police Service.

“ I was asked to come to the APS station in my community as they wanted to ask me questions. I went up as I thought it was regarding my recent mischief charge for protesting against council.” Says Land Defender John Hawke of Chimnissing Anishinabek Territory (Beausoleil First Nation.)

The RCMP launched Project Sitka to get a handle on Indigenous rights-related demonstrations . The RCMP wanted to identify specific activists who had been arrested, arrested and charged and convicted, create profiles and links to organizations across the country. After probing more than 300 activists, the RCMP came up with a list of 89 at the end of the intelligence project.

“ This Detective introduced himself as Will Shawnoo from the Major Crimes Unit with APS and said he wanted to know what I thought about the political actions currently going on across Canada in regards to pipelines. I asked him if its just me he came to see and why. He said my name is known out there as someone who organizes protest related activities. So I told him to watch the news as there is lots of info on there and I walked out.” Says Hawke who further explained the APS Detective drove 7 hours from London for what was a 20 second interaction.

“ I feel like this was harassment and I was being profiled by APS and that they’re being used by Canada to spy on our people in our communities who stand up for our rights and land where this demonstrates a loss of trust by these First Nations police officers and their organization.” Says Hawke

Hawke wasn’t the only “activist” to be approached by where Karen Bell of Garden River First Nation and Central Region Investigator for APS communicated with a community member who wished to remain anonymous but made a recording on his cellphone of his encounter.

“She came into the dispensary looking for me yesterday afternoon, saying she wanted to have a talk about a protest and solidarity actions going on, then called me on my cell a couple hours later. I went in to see her and recorded it. I didn’t say anything but let her do the talking. It was bullshit” says a First Nation community member in APS’s Central Region.

The Anishinabek Police Service – Major Crime – Investigative Support Unit provides assistance to the Detachments and its Members with investigations and will take a lead on the more serious criminal investigations. The unit is comprised of a supervisor, three detective constables, and two external secondments and domestic violence coordinator. The unit is been responsible to take the lead of major investigations, provide investigative support to detachments, prepare/assist with search warrants and production orders, create intelligence reports, conduct drug education and enforcement, support Professional Standards with investigations and ensuring all domestic violence cases Criminal and Non-Criminal are reviewed..

This is not the first time when Anishinabek Police Services relations with the communities it serves comes into question. The APS have conducted raids to shut down what they claim are illegal Cannabis dispensaries in Garden River First Nation and Wahnipitae First Nation in 2019.

In an article by Dispensing Freedom Sept 2019, (Anishinabek Police Services raid Wahnapitae cannabis dispensaries in violation of Indigenous laws; Stores vow to re-open) APS Police Chief Marc Lesage stated the APS did not receive a request from Chief and Council of Wahnapitae First Nation to conduct the raids, but acted on their own behalf to unilaterally enforce the Federal Cannabis Act on Indigenous lands.

Police Chief Lesage further indicated that he was unaware of the decision made by the Chiefs of Ontario in June of 2019 to assert “complete jurisdiction” to govern all cannabis operations within First Nation territories. Lesage also stated in a phone interview that he did not know that the members of Wahnapitae First Nation voted in a referendum on June 29th 2019 to legalize sales of cannabis in their territory, and that he did not know that Chief and Council had passed an interim cannabis bylaw to regulate the industry on reserve. 

Anishinabek Police Service and OPP raid a Cannabis Dispensary
in Wahnipitae First Nation in 2019 as part of the PJFCET. Photo
courtesy of https://dispensingfreedom.com

On the APS’s literature found on their website they declare, “Although marihuana is legal, all dispensaries have to be licensed.”

Community members along with leadership feel outside laws have no business in regulate their aboriginal right to trade.

The APS is part of Ontario’s Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team – PJFCET Where their literature claims these efforts are to dismantle illegal cannabis trafficking which is supported by organized crime. The APS developed a relationship with the Ontario Provincial Police who are currently managing Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforce-ment Teams (PJFCET) which is comprised of a number of Police Services from Southern Ontario.

Community members feel that APS enforcing outside laws and enforcing the PJFCET they are further helping to criminalize community members who are asserting their aboriginal rights to trade which was the focus of a rally on June 21, 2020 National Indigneous Peoples Day in Batchewana and Garden River First Nations.

Above: Former National Chief of National Indian Brotherhood now AFN Del Riley and author of Sec 25/35 in Canada’s Constitution Act explains at a Rally the Aboriginal Right for First Nations to erect Cannabis Industry without Provincial Interference. OPP Indigenous liaison officer and APS Constable left and right in ball caps.

Community members, Indigenous Dispensary Owners and Supporters along with Del Riley former National Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood now AFN rallied outside APS Police Stations to make their voices heard.

When Riley does visit and consult with First Nation dispensary owners, he issues them ‘constitutional certificates,’ indicating that cannabis dispensaries are protected under Section 25 and Section 35 of the Constitution Act, which he says upholds the right to participate in the cannabis industry through the government’s own recognition and affirmation of existing aboriginal and treaty rights. 

These are not the only questionable actions of the Anishinabek Police Service, in April 2019 CTV and CBC reported on the Heads of the Police Force who were suspended. Police Chief John Syrette and Deputy Police Chief Dave Whitlow were suspended with pay in February 2019. According to a statement released by APS board chair Jeffrey Jacobs, the suspensions were issued “following complaints regarding the conduct of certain members of the senior command.” The statement did not specify the nature of the allegations, but said the board had hired an external investigator after receiving the complaints.

The union representing Anishinabek police officers also refused to comment, as did the leaders of some of the 16 communities the police force protects. When it comes to discipline for the chief and deputy chief, the process is different than the one governing police officers in Ontario, who appear before a provincial tribunal. Instead, these officers will answer to a committee of the Anishinabek police authority.


One of the most historical infamous issues between Reserve Constables in a Police Force under the jurisdiction of Settler Government happened on December 15, 1890 on the Standing Rock Reserve. Fourty Indian Agency Policemen were given instructions to bring Tantanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) into custody by the Indian Agent where these Indian Reserve Constables killed Sitting Bull and seven of his friends and family. It is evident today who Indigenous Police really serve and protect.