Jorge Barrera, Canwest News Service, June 16, 2009
Most of the border guards who work at a closed Canada-U.S. crossing in eastern Ontario at the centre of a dispute between Ottawa and Mohawks won’t return to work at the site even when the matter is settled, the guards’ union said Tuesday.
Ron Moran, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said the majority of the 37 guards who work at the Cornwall Island, Ont., crossing have been told by their doctors not to return to work as long as the border crossing remains on the island, which is on the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve straddling the Ontario-Quebec-New York State borders. Doctors have warned guards that the tense relationship between guards and the community is too stressful and might have adverse health effects.
The crossing was shut by the Canada Border Services Agency to the general public on May 31, after the Akwesasne leadership said the community would not allow the planned arming of border guards the next day.
“If the office were to reopen, there would not be enough of a compliment of officers to run at it at this stage,” said Moran.
Moran said he doesn’t believe that the government will ever reopen the border post, which sits on an island in the St. Lawrence River, about 100 kilometres west of Montreal. He said the government likely would choose to set up beside the U.S. border post on the southern shore of the river.
“It has reached a point of irreconcilable differences between the law enforcement service and segments of the community,” said Moran. “My educated guess is that they will open the Canadian operation and set it up on the U.S. side.”
Moran said issues arising from having a Canadian border crossing on U.S. territory could be worked out.
The Akwesasne leadership has said it won’t discuss arming guards at the post until the federal border agency settles outstanding concerns raises by local residents who say they have faced harassment and racial profiling from border guards. Federal court lawsuits and human rights complaints have been launched against the agency.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan’s office said that they had been informed by the union that the guards would not return “unless they can be assured of their safety and security.”
Van Loan has also said his department was studying the “long-term viability” of the Cornwall Island post.
Akwesasne Chief Larry King said no one has yet bothered to discuss any of these issues with the Mohawk leadership.
“A lot of these discussions are happening all around us and not with us,” said King. “People are talking about Akwesasne, but not to Akwesasne . . . that is not healthy with the situation at hand.”
The Akwesasne leadership has said they don’t want armed border guards on their land, while the CBSA has said arming guards is part of a national policy. The agency plans to arm 4,800 guards across the country by 2016 with 9mm sidearms. The CBSA began the process in August 2007, and there are now 917 armed officers at border posts across the country.