Cornwall businesses demand action on border dispute
Published Wednesday, June 17, 2009 4:58PM EDT
A delegation of business people from Cornwall, Ont. showed up on Parliament Hill to plead for the federal government to re-open a border crossing in their area.
"It's a situation that we see as very urgent and we don't see the federal government being accountable for the decision that they made," said Scott Armstrong, president of the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce.
The federal government closed the eastern Ontario border crossing at Cornwall Island in advance of planned protests by the Akwesasne Mohawk First Nation over the arming of border guards on June 1.
The issue has been an ongoing dispute between the government and Mohawks, who have staged several protests over guns at the border, which is located on Akwesasne territory.
While the Mohawk Council insists guns at the border aren't necessary, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan says the government is committed to following through with a promise to arm Canada's border guards.
"Our policy was to arm our border services officers at all land crossings. We didn't say all land crossings but one. We didn't say, 'Hey, all you bad guys, here's the place to go.' That would be the foolish thing about having one border crossing where you didn't apply that policy," said Van Loan.
However, the standoff is causing revenue to drop for many Cornwall businesses that rely on cross-border traffic. Business owners say they're particularly concerned now that the tourist season is getting into full swing.
"It could be devastating for that entire strip. All of our hoteliers, restaurants, gas stations, shopping; it could have a tremendous impact that will have an impact on our entire year," said Paul Lefebvre, general manager of the Best Western-Parkway Inn in Cornwall.
Under normal circumstances, it takes about 10 minutes to cross the border at Cornwall Island. Now, travellers are being rerouted to either Prescott, Ont. or Dundee, Que., making a simple cross-border trip to Cornwall an hour and a half drive.
The Cornwall border crossing handles more than 2.5 million trips each year with commercial and tourist traffic accounting for at least one million trips, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Norman Fetterley