Native protest closes bridge to Cornwall border-crossing
Published Saturday, September 19, 2009 7:21PM EDT
Police blocked access to a temporary border-crossing in Cornwall, Ont. for more than six hours on Saturday after Akwesasne Mohawks protested what they call unfair treatment by Canada Border Services.
Cornwall police closed the Seaway International Bridge leading to the United States just after 11 a.m. because of a dispute between Mohawks and the government agency.
Although the border-crossing remained open, the bridge was closed until just before 5:30 p.m. Those hoping to travel to the United States were being advised to cross the border at Dundee, Que., located 45 minutes east of Cornwall; or Prescott, Ont., about 45 minutes west of Cornwall.
The demonstration stemmed from a disagreement over fines recently issued to members of the Mohawk community who failed to report to a temporary customs office in Cornwall when they returned to Canada from the United States, even though they stayed within native territory.
However, Canada Border Services says all travellers entering Canada are required by law to report to the port of entry.
In a statement released to the media, the agency said it recognized it would take time for frequent travellers to become familiar with the temporary border-crossing. Since July 13, the government has been communicating the rules through the media, as well as using a sign campaign at the American side of the Canada-U.S. border.
Canada Border Services said it notified the Akwesasne Mohawk Council on Sept. 1 to inform the community that it intended to start enforcing the rules.
However, the Akwesasne Mohawk Council disagreed with recent penalties issued to members of the community, saying it made no sense to fine Mohawks who use native land to travel between the two countries.
"They are not entering Canada, but travelling only within Mohawk territory. When they do travel to Cornwall, they report at the Cornwall Port as do every other visitor to Canada," reads a statement issued by the Akwesasne Mohawk Council on Friday.
The council said some residents have been fined $1,000 for failing to report to customs. If the fine is not paid, the council said border agents will seize vehicles when they leave Mohawk territory to enter Cornwall.
Members of the CBSA met with the Akwesasne Mohawk Council on Saturday to discuss the dispute.
Akwesasne resident Brian White calls the fines "extortion" against Mohawks.
"Some local residents shut down the bridge (Saturday) morning after the CBSA impounded a vehicle and wanted to extort the Indians $1,000 to get their car back," he told CTV Ottawa.
The demonstration on Saturday was described by Mohawks as small and peaceful.
It's the latest in a series of incidents that have closed the Seaway International Bridge this summer.
The temporary border crossing was opened on July 13 in Cornwall, Ont., six weeks after a crossing on native territory was closed amid a dispute with the Mohawk community.
The border crossing at Cornwall Island was shut down on June 1, when a new federal policy kicked in requiring all border guards to carry nine-millimetre handguns.
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.