Cornwall MP Guy Lauzon has tried to distance himself from the controversy of armed border guards, but an internal report suggests that he should have made this a priority. Unfortunately his only priority appears to be getting re-elected and 'no comment' is simply not good enough.
Internal border report warned of violence if guards armed on Mohawk land
November 19, 2009
THE CANADIAN PRESS
CORNWALL, Ont. - An internal report warned the Canadian Border Services Agency of potential violence resulting from plans to arm border guards with handguns at a controversial crossing on Mohawk land outside the eastern Ontario community of Cornwall.
The document also cautioned that giving guards guns could further damage the border agency's relationship with local Akwesasne Mohawks, and recommended the agency look "aggressively" at relocating the border office.
The report on the arming initiative, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, was written by the border agency in October 2008, more than six months before the controversial post was closed over the arming dispute.
The Akwesasne Mohawk First Nation covers Cornwall Island, which straddles the Ontario-Quebec-New York state borders. The border crossing was closed in May after guards left their posts following reported threats of violence. Officers stationed at the post were scheduled to be armed with 9-mm handguns the following day.
The crossing has since been temporarily relocated to the Seaway International Bridge, which links the island to mainland Cornwall.
A briefing note, which summarized the heavily censored report, recommended the agency "look aggressively at long-term solutions to the Akwesasne issue including relocation of the CBSA office."
The report outlined some potentially dangerous results from putting guns into the guards' hands.
"Arming officers will not be accepted lightly by some community members, particularly its hardliners, and will serve to aggravate difficulties between the community and the CBSA," the report said.
"Whether the difficulties escalate into outright violence (versus intimidation) and whether they are long term or short term in duration" was considered subject to debate.
The report went on to warn that delaying or cancelling the Cornwall arming could hurt relations between management and staff at the crossing.
Ron Moran, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, has said events leading to the closing mean officers "can never work at the current location again, armed or unarmed."
The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne has long opposed arming border officers at the crossing, saying it would violate their sovereignty and could lead to violent incidents.
It's unclear whether the government took steps to move the border office before it was shut down.
Christopher McCluskey, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, said in an email Thursday that the federal government decided three years ago to arm border officers at all land crossings.
"The arming of border services officers ensures the safety and security of the community, travelling public and CBSA personnel," McCluskey said.
"As an operational responsibility of the CBSA, they are responsible for the implementation of that decision. Almost all travellers entering Canada at land crossings now do so at ports of entry with armed officers."
McCluskey said arming the officers matches the longstanding practice of the American Customs and Border Patrol.
"This is seen by both countries as an important measure to keep our shared border safe and secure."
Border agency spokeswoman Panayiota Karaiskos said only that the agency is committed to ongoing discussions about the future of the crossing. "The CBSA continues to explore options for a viable long-term solution" to the dispute, she added.
Van Loan has said arming border guards at all posts fulfils a 2006 Conservative Party campaign promise, and that no exception will be made for the Cornwall Island crossing.
Akwesasne Grand Chief Mike Mitchell said he wasn't surprised the agency armed its guards despite being warned of the consequences.
"It leads me to believe this has been the objective and the goal of customs, to find some way to legitimately give (the border guards) leave," he said in an interview. "They've finally achieved their objective to leave here and find some excuse, (so) they wouldn't have to come back."
Mitchell said the Akwesasne people are law abiding but nearing the end of their patience over how the government has handled the dispute. "Nobody here likes where this is being directed to go," he said. "If it's going to have a violent ending it's because they're pushing (us) towards that direction."
Mark Holland, the Liberal public safety critic, said the government "knowingly created a volatile situation" in Akwesasne which could have been avoided had the public safety minister heeded the warnings of his department.