Auditor General criticizes First Nations housing and policing failures

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

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

Karen Hogan also looked at the planned expansion of the much-criticized First Nations policing program and found that mismanagement is leaving communities underserved and underfunded.

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

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

Hogan’s report says communities with the poorest housing conditions received the least funding and the government did not ensure housing met building code standards.

“Many people living in First Nations communities do not have access to safe and well-maintained housing, a fundamental human right,” the report reads.

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

From 2018-19 to 2022-23, Indigenous Services and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation provided funding to build 11,754 new housing units and repair 15,859 existing units.

That represents about a fifth of what is needed in new construction and repairs to close existing gaps, Hogan found.

He noted that construction in communities can be challenging, especially if they are located in rural and remote regions, limiting the construction season and available workers. The pandemic also caused some project delays.

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Still, the lack of adequate housing is associated with family violence, substance use, suicide and economic barriers, Hogan said, and can contribute to loss of culture if there are no housing options in communities, which that forces migration.

And as time goes on, he said, the gaps will continue to grow.

The $3.86 billion in housing allocated to 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 said. .

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

While Indigenous Services Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation are currently responsible for supporting First Nations housing, the former is mandated to transfer governance responsibilities to First Nations.

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

“A strategy is important considering the short period of time remaining to close the gap, the size of the gap, the limited funding available, and the challenges First Nations face in building infrastructure,” the report reads.

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In a second report, the auditor found serious problems related to the planned expansion of a much-criticized program that provides policing services to First Nations.

The Liberals have promised a $500-million expansion to the program in 2021, through which the federal and provincial governments combine funds to pay for policing in First Nations.

“Since additional funding was received to expand the program, no communities had been added to an existing self-managed policing agreement within our audit period,” Hogan noted in his report.

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

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

“By failing to meet some of their responsibilities under the program, the actions of Public Safety Canada and the RCMP are not aligned with building trust with First Nations and Inuit communities and with the federal government’s commitment to truth and reconciliation,” Hogan said in his report.

The First Nations policing program has long been criticized, both in a previous performance audit and as part of a human rights complaint and litigation.

A third report released Tuesday found that the government’s $4.6 billion program to bolster transportation infrastructure across the country is generally well thought out but suffers from poor tracking of results.

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