Cornwall mayor, Akwesasne grand chief denounce angry notes left on car windshields

·3 min read

The mayor of Cornwall, Ont., and the grand chief of the nearby Mohawk community are both denouncing unfriendly notes recently left on the windshields of cars with out-of-province licence plates.

While Ontario is under a stay-at-home order due to the spread of COVID-19 and Quebec has an overnight curfew starting at 8 p.m., many of those cars come from Akwesasne, a Mohawk Nation territory that straddles both the interprovincial and international border.

"There are people in Akwesasne who have Quebec, Ontario, New York plates," Mayor Bernadette Clement said.

"They are very regularly in Cornwall, in grocery stores, doing all of the things that are allowed ... purchasing essential goods, seeking essential services like medical care."

Clement said she first heard about the notes last week after city councillor Todd Bennett posted a photo of one on Facebook.

Bennett, who works at the city's Farm Boy grocery store, had seen the note posted on a car in the parking lot and recognized it as a vehicle from the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory.

"You are not from this province. You are not wanted here," the note read. "Go home, stay home."

'Jurisdictional nightmare'

In a Facebook post, Clement wrote that it had been confirmed that multiple notes were indeed placed on vehicles belonging to people from Akwesasne.

Leaving angry notes on windshields "doesn't send the right message at a time when ... we have to get through this together," she told CBC News Sunday.

Grand Chief Abram Benedict also wrote an open letter on Facebook after hearing about the notes, explaining the "jurisdictional nightmare" residents of Akwesasne deal with on a regular basis and expressing hope they were written out of "ignorance and misunderstanding ... and not racism."

In an interview, Benedict said community members had also told him about looks and comments they'd received in Cornwall while accessing essential services.

"It's very disappointing when we learned of people receiving those notes," he said. "It's disheartening as well to know that people aren't so welcoming."

Benedict said he understands concerns about cross-border travel, but he hoped people would understand Akwesasne's unique geographical situation.

Since posting his open letter, Benedict said he's received positive feedback from people in both communities, as well as apologies from Cornwall residents who hadn't understood the exact situation before.

"We're hopeful ... individuals will take a moment to reflect upon what has been said [and make sure we] as a region get through this together," he said.

"We don't need, you know, divisive things like this getting in the way."

Jonathan Dupaul/Radio-Canada
Jonathan Dupaul/Radio-Canada

Time for self-reflection

Clement, who also spoke about the issue during a Facebook Live broadcast, said she understands the pandemic has been difficult and that many are feeling frustrated by the restrictions.

Still, she urged residents to use this time for self-reflection rather than recrimination, and raise complaints with elected officials rather than taking matters into their own hands.

"We really are in this together," she said.

"And if we start to support divisive action, I think that that will harm us in the long run."