Indigenous Residents Forced to Cross Border to Reach Rest of Canada Seek $150M for ‘Systemic Discrimination’
Paola Loriggio, National Post, July 17, 2019
A proposed class-action lawsuit alleges Mohawk residents of an Ontario island face “systemic discrimination” as they are forced to go through a border crossing to access the rest of Canada.
The lawsuit alleges the Canada Border Services Agency and the Attorney General of Canada have turned a blind eye to illegal searches, seizures and detention inflicted on members of the Akwesasne reserve living on Cornwall Island.
The island is located in the St. Lawrence River, on Canadian territory, with bridges linking it to the U.S. and Cornwall, Ont. The Akwesasne reserve, meanwhile, stretches over parts of Ontario, Quebec and New York State.
A statement of claim says everyone going to the Canadian mainland from Cornwall Island must go through a port of entry, a unique arrangement it says is both “inconvenient and disruptive” for residents travelling domestically.
The document alleges the CBSA and the Attorney General were negligent and breached their duties in allowing border guards to treat island residents travelling within Canada like foreign visitors.
“The situation has become intolerable for the people of Akwesasne,” said Cameron Fiske of Milosevic Fiske LLP, one of the firms involved in the suit.
“Nowhere else in Canada are people treated like this. Nowhere else in Canada do Canadians have to go through an international border when they are going from one part of Canada to another part of Canada.”
“Cornwall Island has a unique and complex set of challenges related to border management,” said Border Services Agency spokeswoman Jacqueline Callin.
“To address these, the (agency) and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne are working in a Nation-to-Nation approach.”
Fiske said Cornwall Island residents have to go through a border crossing to attend schools, doctors’ appointments or to eat in restaurants.
“Each time there is the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen at the border and the possibility of being sent to secondary inspection,” he said.
The lawsuit is seeking $100 million in damages and another $50 million in punitive damages, as well as a declaration that the defendants have violated the charter rights of the proposed class members.
The suit’s proposed representative plaintiff is Kanawakeron Jody Swamp, a member of the Mohawk Nation who lives on the island.