MCA responds to RCMP surveillance fence announcement

AKWESASNE – The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is responding to a National Post article that reported on the RCMP’s $92-million dollar plan to place a myriad of high-tech, high-security equipment along the U.S.–Canada border to act as an electronic surveillance “fence”. One of the locations being targeted for this latest border enforcement plan is the waterways located within and around the Territory of Akwesasne.

The National Post included a statement about Mohawks criticizing the plan as an attack on our sovereignty and a threat to our economy.  It is true that putting Akwesasne into a police state that is already surrounded by security cameras and a multitude of law enforcement agencies can be viewed as an attack on not only our sovereignty; but also on our human rights, mobility rights and privacy rights. It’s akin to the federal government putting more salt on the crisis situation that already exists between Canada and First Nations, which was noted in the report submitted by UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya following his visit to Akwesasne on October 7, 2013.

Suggestions in the media that Akwesasne supports or wants criminal activity to continue are incorrect and damaging to our positive endeavors and opportunities.  There is no mention of Akwesasne’s appeal to work cooperatively with Canada to address our common concerns, which began as early as 2000 in a letter to then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien that warned of the impact that the federal action of raising taxes on cigarettes would ultimately have on our community. There is also no mention of our repeated requests; as recent as May 1, 2013 before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs; to work with Canada to effectively deal with potential criminal elements that attempt to take advantage of the geographic and jurisdictional challenges that have been imposed upon our community and people.

Akwesasne has made requests for partnerships and has called for increased support from Canada in order to help secure the border that physically dissects our community into several jurisdictions: Ontario, Quebec, and New York.  The Akwesasne Mohawk Police Services needs the resources to patrol the nearly 100 miles of the border that zigzags around almost 400 islands located in the Territory of Akwesasne. It’s an area that has been called a “jurisdictional nightmare” by external law enforcement agencies and is better patrolled by Mohawk police officers intimately familiar with the St. Lawrence River’s tributaries, channels, wetlands and marshes.

In recent decades, Akwesasne has witnessed a substantial growth in our community’s population and the need to increase employment opportunities that focus on a legitimate economy, as well as expand our community’s essential services in areas like policing. The implementation and enforcement of border security initiatives of Canada and the United States however, is beyond the mandate of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Services, but has been assumed by our local police department to ensure the ongoing safety and security of the community and traveling public.

The additional responsibility of maintaining the international border’s integrity was exacerbated in 2009 when the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) relocated its customs facility from Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island) to the City of Cornwall. The unexpected relocation of the CBSA and the role of ensuring border integrity have placed a strain on the 24-member Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service. To effectively respond to the additional responsibility, AMPS requires funding for additional patrol officers and the creation of a full-time marine unit. It will enable our local police department to continue having a major impact on criminal organizations that seek to exploit our community. This will cost far less and will be more effective than what is being proposed in the RCMP’s plan.

Under the current proposal, there is a concern that criminal organizations and terrorists will still attempt to take advantage of our community—especially when mainstream media and elected officials continue to publicly promote the border at Akwesasne as being an unsecure area in order to advance their own political agenda or to cater to special interest groups. Blaming Akwesasne is not new as immediately following 9/11 our community was heavily blamed in the media as a suspected entry point for terrorists. This was later disproven, but  Akwesasne has suffered ever since these reckless and incorrect statements were made.

Akwesasne shares the goals of other governments to secure the border however; the Government of Canada has been unwilling to support our efforts. We have received more support from the United States than we have received from Canada. Perhaps it is easier for Canada to continue blaming Akwesasne for its problems, rather than work with us.

At a time when Canada is planning to spend tens of millions more on law enforcement, Akwesasne continues to propose the least expensive path of partnerships and increased cooperation. We have also proposed the development of a secure border identification card that will ultimately enhance border integrity by clearly identifying our local residents. It’s a proposal that has received a favorable response from U.S. Congressman Bill Owens and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has asked Canada numerous times to also support as it will assist the border enforcement efforts of both countries. It will expedite the processing of local residents that comprise the vast majority of border travelers and will support our region’s cross-border commerce.

Akwesasne has also proposed and is pursuing other security measures that will contribute to border enforcement. In fact, the MCA and its counterpart on the southern, or “U.S.” portion of Akwesasne, have begun negotiations to implement a Mohawk Border Security Plan of our own that would include local security/border officers and procedures that take into account Akwesasne’s unique multi-jurisdictional reality. It recognizes Akwesasne as a cross-border community and builds upon our proven experience at developing multi-jurisdictional agreements and political protocols with external and internal governments to address the needs of our community.

In response to the National Post statement that Mohawks view additional security as a threat to the economy, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne firmly disagrees. Akwesasne does view Canada’s border security as being damaging to our local economy. The added law enforcement initiatives combined with the CBSA’s reporting requirement has been devastating to the many stores and small businesses located on Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island). No longer can travelers stop and support our local economy as they travel on their way to the City of Cornwall. It has led some of our hard-working community members to make the difficult decision to close their businesses located at the Peace Tree Mall located on Kawehno:ke, as well as gas stations and restaurants located elsewhere in Akwesasne.

Akwesasne is entering the second year of a two-year tobacco pilot project with Ontario that is exploring avenues for controlling, regulating and legalizing tobacco products. Any cigarettes coming from the southern portion of Akwesasne will go through the same regulation and control measures. These are the type of partnerships that are still possible at all levels and will translate into a healthy and legal economy for Akwesasne and improved border security for Canada and the United States, but before this can happen the finger pointing at our community has to stop. We need government officials to see the potential of cooperation and collaboration. There are solutions and we have been speaking about them to external governments.

The plan to spend millions of dollars more on external law enforcement is equivalent to Canada sending in more cavalry soldiers to further surround Akwesasne. We continue to state that other solutions can be found that are more productive and will benefit all.

It has been our experience that when our leadership identifies alternative strategies that would translate into a healthy and legal economy we have gotten no support from the federal government.

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