Reserve chief worried for Cornwall Island residents' safety
Ottawa — From Monday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Monday, Jul. 13, 2009 03:42AM EDT
Customs officials said border traffic should flow again as of 6 a.m. Monday, after a six-week shutdown, caused when long-running tensions between Mohawk residents and border guards flared up because the customs inspectors were about to start carrying guns.
A hodgepodge of tents, trailers, a rented gas-station lot, and special car escorts for big trucks are expected to make up the temporary border post, meaning that Cornwall residents will probably have to accept some traffic tangles in exchange for the reopening of the bridge.
The makeshift border post is being set up so that customs inspections can be moved from Mohawk land on the middle of the bridge – there are two spans that meet on Cornwall Island on the Akwesasne reserve – to the Canadian end, in the city of Cornwall.
That means travellers coming across the bridge from the U.S. can drive off the bridge onto Cornwall Island, in Canada, before they pass a border post. In theory, anyone heading to the island is supposed to cross the bridge and check in with Canadian customs, and then double back.
“I said that will never happen,” said Akwesasne grand chief Mike Mitchell. “Come on, get real.”
The Akwesasne reserve, with communities on both sides of the border, has long been viewed by U.S. and Canadian authorities as a major smuggling route, so much so that Mr. Mitchell laments that it has been labelled an “outlaw community.”
But he said he is concerned for the safety of Cornwall Island residents because he's not aware of any additional measures to check those driving onto the island from the U.S., and fears that criminals from outside the community might now be able to enter.
“It demonstrates that the longer-term solution, in my estimation, is that the port of entry has to be located on Cornwall Island,” said Cornwall Mayor Bob Kilger. “For national security and the security of the people of Cornwall Island, I think it's got to remain there.”
In the meantime, he said, people may able to get to Cornwall Island without going through customs, but not to the mainland. “Which means we'll continue to be vulnerable on the waterways, which has always been the case,” he said.
Local MP Guy Lauzon said the closure of the bridge caused headaches for residents, because The nearest bridge is in Prescott, 45 minutes away.
Mr. Mitchell said he was engaged in talks last week with Canada Border Services Agency officials over the Mohawk community's long-standing complaint that residents were being harassed by border guards and subjected to racial profiling, but was “kind of blindsided” when the agency announced yesterday it would open a temporary customs post.
He said he's not sure if things that CBSA appeared to agree to, like hiring a liaison officer, will occur. The community became upset when Canadian border guards were about to start carrying guns on June 1, he said, but that stems from other grievances.
He said he doubts residents will ever accept customs agents with guns – the guards' union insists it is necessary – and it's not wise considering the years of tensions. “I'd be concerned, on both sides, about where that could lead.”
A CBSA spokesman said talks will continue; Mr. Kilger speculated that will probably take four to six months.
The makeshift border post, meanwhile, will be set up overnight, while Cornwall tries to sort out the traffic problems.
A first-inspection line for travellers will be on the bridge, just south of the city, Mr. Kilger said. Those who are directed for “secondary inspections” will be sent to a lot that once housed a Petro-Canada station at the edge of a rotary near the foot of the bridge, he said. Big trucks will be escorted by customs agents in cars for about 250 yards for inspections, he said.
In the meantime, trailers with equipment are being brought in for the post to be open at dawn. “They'll be working their butts off overnight,” Mr. Kilger said.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Its about time the Federal Government showed the Mowhawks some real respect
instead of using the CBSA as a long term weapon of harassment. That culture of
hatred towards Mowhawks has got to end. Its an embarassment to Canada.
The solution is simple, just as there are Mowhawk Police about whom we hear no complaints, Mr. Harper should direct the CBSA to employ solely Mowhawks as boarder guards at the crossing on the Reserve.
Canadians need to remember that to get to go to CBSA Cowboy or CowGirl gun classes you only need a six week training course and minimal education.
Just imagine if Wallmart had greeters who had a hatred towards the public and suddenly decided to issue them firearms?
Now give those same people more power, more official power than a cop and odds are a significant percentage would not be able to resist the temptation to abuse that power.
Throw in a long history of abuse at that crossing by the CBSA guards and you have a guarantee of endless abuse of power.
When we see Mowhawks as boarder guards then we will know that the Canadian Government is serious about ending their undeclared war against the Mowhawks.