April 25th, 2024

‘Completely discouraged’: Auditor slams First Nations housing, policing failures

By Alessia Passafiume and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press on March 19, 2024.

Auditor general Karen Hogan speaks during a news conference, Monday, February 12, 2024 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – The federal auditor general is “completely discouraged” to see so little improvement to substandard housing in First Nations over the past two decades, a new report says.

Karen Hogan also looked at the planned expansion of the highly criticized First Nations policing program, and found poor management is leaving communities underserved and funds unspent.

The reports tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday paint a bleak picture of Ottawa’s record on First Nations housing and policing.

It’s the fourth time since 2003 that the auditor general has held the government responsible for unsafe and unsuitable First Nations housing.

Hogan’s report says communities with the poorest housing conditions received the least funding, and the government failed to ensure homes met building code standards.

“Many people living in First Nations communities do not have access to housing that is safe and in good condition – a fundamental human right,” the report reads.

“Improving housing for First Nations is vital for their physical, mental and economic health and well-being.”

The $3.86 billion in housing allocated for First Nations communities over the past five years is just a fraction of the $44 billion the Assembly of First Nations estimates is needed to improve housing by 2030, Hogan noted.

She estimated that an additional $16 billion is needed for future housing needs related to population growth from 2022 until 2040.

Indigenous Services Canada has a mandate to transfer responsibilities, including housing, to First Nations.

Hogan’s report found the department is in the early stages of doing that, but no significant policy framework is in place to guide its approach.

The auditor also found serious issues related to the planned expansion of a highly criticized program that provides police services to First Nations.

The Liberals promised a $500 million expansion to the program in 2021, which sees the federal and provincial government combine funds to pay for policing on First Nations.

Hogan’s report also said the RCMP was not living up to its commitments to communities, was not spending money equitably and was set to leave $45 million allocated for the program unspent this year.

For example, in a sample of 26 communities served by RCMP under the program, only 38 per cent had officers who could spend 100 per cent of their time dedicated to the communities they serve, as required.

A third report published Tuesday found the government’s $4.6-billion program to bolster transportation infrastructure across the country is well-crafted overall but suffers from poor results tracking.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024.

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