Kanesatake security talks continue

·4 min read

In the midst of a significant reshuffling of mandates within Kanesatake’s Council, the question of security in the community remains unsettled.

When the current Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) administration came into power last August, it followed a sequence of events which had Kanehsata’kehró:non increasingly concerned, and outside governments discussing the possibility of reinstating a local policing service.

“We had finally made headway with the governments sitting at the table with us and discussing how we could proceed,” said Robert Bonspiel, the previous Kanesatake Health Center (KHC) spokesperson and former consultant at the security negotiations table.

“Then, I was informed a little while back that my services within the parameters of my contract negotiating for a new police force were no longer required because Council was no longer going to be reinstating any police force within the territory,” continued Bonspiel.

MCK grand chief Victor Akwirente Bonspille said several contracts weren’t renewed because they had been created by the last administration without the proper authorization of a full Council.

“They were not sanctioned or passed through a quorum of chiefs,” said Bonspille.

Alongside the streak of contracts not to be renewed by the MCK administration also comes an external investigation into the handling of expenditures at the KHC Planning and Response Unit, formerly known as the Emergency Response Unit. The internal management audit is investigating an excess of $2.4 million in salary for 10 employees observed over the course of a single fiscal year.

When Bonspiel received news that his involvement at the negotiation table ended on September 4, he was shocked by the decision.

“There was finally something positive coming out about policing and everybody was on board,” he said, referring to the previous MCK administration.

On the other hand, Kanesatake’s grand chief said that talks about reestablishing a police force might’ve stemmed from the last leadership, but that it did not reflect the entirety of Council’s nor the community’s stance.

“The idea was presented but it wasn’t discussed at length with a full Council and meetings (on the topic) didn’t involve a full Council either,” said Bonspille, who was a Council chief during the last term. “We decided as a new Council that we want to more or less take small steps towards creating something bigger.”

Without entirely withdrawing from the possibility of the community someday reintroducing a policing service, elected Council member Teiawenhniseráhte Tomlinson expressed first and foremost wanting to set the record straight on conflicting messages regarding the MCK’s standing on the matter.

“The past administration had been begging the government for the reinstatement of a police organization for the better part of the last decade, with no result whatsoever,” said Tomlinson. “The approach that we are favouring in this case is one of progressive capacity building.”

Equipped with 17 years of experience working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Tomlinson pointed to his knowledge of navigating the system as a significant advantage in addressing the community’s persisting safety issues.

“What our approach can do is bring a level of security in the community in the short-term while continuing discussions and negotiations to build capacity on,” he explained. “Will it become a police force in the future? It could, but that all depends on what the needs and wants of the community will be.”

Although everything is still to be determined, Tomlinson said an option to consider would be a system consisting of unarmed safety officers trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation.

“It would still be a service that could be readily available to ensure some level of safety in the community in the interim,” he added.

In addition to being an option that could be deployed more rapidly than a police force, issues relating to budget, reliance on outside governments and feasibility are compelling factors, according to the Council member.

Details aside, now that he is no longer involved in discussions, Bonspiel expressed worry that the Council’s decision not to advance with the reestablishing of a policing force will actually lead to steps back.

“It’s reached a whole other level of disappointment for me as a member of this community, a member of the table of negotiations, and now, I’m also disappointed as a grandfather,” he said. “I can’t see why we pushed ourselves away from the table now.”

No matter where the discussions lead, the grand chief reinforced that these talks should remain about security rather than policing. “And we are always working to secure safety measures for our community,” added Bonspille.

While disagreements and hurdles remain ahead, Tomlinson insisted on the Council’s commitment to involve Kanehsata’kehró:non every step of the way, including with a public meeting on November 30.

“There are many advantages to our approach but the bottom line is that what we want to undertake is to build this project with the community,” said the Council member. “To engage the community in bringing this forward so that we can ensure its success.”

laurence.b.dubreuil@gmail.com

Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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