Cornwall border won't reopen until native protest ends
The federal public safety minister says the Canada-U.S. border crossing near Cornwall, Ont. won't reopen until the Mohawk community accepts that guards at the border will be armed with handguns.
"We are going to keep it closed until such time as the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the community indicate a willingness to allow the border services officers to be there as they are required across the country now in an armed circumstance," Peter Van Loan told CTV's Power Play.
The government closed the eastern Ontario border crossing at Cornwall Island just prior to midnight in advance of planned protests from members of the Akwesasne Mohawk First Nation.
The Canada Border Services Agency was supposed to start arming border guards with handguns at the Cornwall border crossing on Monday.
Arming the guards was a promise made by the Conservative Party during the last election, and Van Loan said the government intends to uphold that commitment.
He said guns at the border are a safety issue and they're necessary to protect the safety of border officers, as well as the public.
The issue has been an ongoing dispute between the federal government and the Mohawks, who have staged several protests over guns at the border, which is located on Akwesasne territory.
Although the border crossing was closed Monday, more than 200 members of the Mohawk community held demonstrations at the border. So far, the protest has been peaceful.
"We're prepared to take this to the limit, the long haul. But hopefully it doesn't drag out that long," one protester told CTV Ottawa.
But if the Mohawk community doesn't back down and remove demonstrations, Van Loan said the border crossing will remain closed.
"When we have a circumstance such as we faced here -- where because of the demonstrations it was unsafe to keep that border crossing open, to keep the border officers in that situation -- we will remove them. We will close the border crossing in order to maintain safety and protect our staff," Van Loan said.
But members of the Akwesasne Mohawk Council say the protest is not just about guns at the border. They say the protest is also about a history of being treated unfairly by border guards.
"This is the boiling point of the issues we've had from (Canada Border Services) workers," said Abram Benedict, district chief of the Mohawk Council.
Benedict told CTV Ottawa tensions between the aboriginal community and border agents have risen dramatically over the last two or three years. He alleged members of his community are often victims of racial profiling and unnecessary searches at the border.
Although Mohawks have staged several protests to get the government to discuss the issue of armed border guards, the Mohawk Council says no real dialogue between the two sides has ever happened.
While the government has indicated it won't budge on arming border guards, Van Loan said the government is willing to talk to Mohawks about how handguns will be implemented at the border.
Cornwall police blocked vehicle traffic over the Cornwall Seaway International Bridge on Monday because of their concern for public safety.
Travellers who intended to use the Cornwall Island border crossing are being asked to use the crossing at Dundee, Que., located 45 minutes east of Cornwall; or the crossing at Prescott, Ont., about 45 minutes west of Cornwall.
As many as 4,000 vehicles pass through the border crossing at Cornwall Island every day.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee