As conversation over reinstating a local policing service resurfaced between the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) and outside governments, some community members have expressed a frustration at the lack of consultation from local officials.
The resurgence of this topic with provincial and federal officials was motivated by recent criticism over perceived inaction from the Surete du Quebec (SQ) to ensure law is applied within the community.
An event held at the Green Room cannabis store in Kanesatake on June 12, attracted hundreds of non-locals to the territory. The party created backlash among Kanehsata’kehró:non who reported receiving threats and being witness to disrespectful behaviour.
“The issue came to a boil after the event two weeks ago,” said MCK grand chief Serge Otsi Simon. “I think that was the last straw for the provincial government who’s been blocking our efforts to get policing back here for my entire term.”
At the provincial level, premier François Legault and Public Security minister Geneviève Guilbault reprimanded both the behaviour of partygoers, as well as that of the SQ.
In separate press conferences held on Monday, June 14, Legault and Guilbault indicated that conversations were underway with the community.
While the MCK is urging governments to set-up a table for negotiations, Kanehsata’kehró:non John Harding is asking that a seat be added for him and the rest of the community.
“When the community approves something, like policing or any kind of agreement with lands, it still has to come back to the community afterwards,” said Harding. “In this instance, like many instances with the current council, they ignore rules and processes, in favour of just doing what they want.”
He said that in addition to this, the MCK is disrespecting the electoral code, which was passed under the same administration in 2015.
The code namely stipulates underneath article 8.3 that, under “exceptional circumstances,” Council may hold a special public meeting to authorize it to continue its mandate for a period not exceeding six months.
According to the terms prescribed by the code, this year’s elections should have taken place on the first weekend of June, four years following the last general election.
Despite no meeting taking place, Council has moved to push elections to July 31.
“We’re at a period right now where the council’s mandate has ended because they dropped the ball in calling the election on time,” said Harding. “For the government to enter into a negotiation with a council whose mandate has expired is even more of a punch in the eye.”
The Kanehsata’kehró:non expressed that while he speaks as a concerned member of the community, he also comes from a place of understanding the different systems at play.
Having served as a chief on the MCK, as well as an officer of the Mohawk Community Policing Service and SQ, Harding is adamant that proceedings to reinstate a force should be done with the utmost consideration of all members.
Amanda Simon is another Kanesatake member who voiced worry following public discussions of restoring the force disbanded in 2004.
“The history with policing in Kanesatake has been very troubling, to say the least,” said Simon. “How can a legal governing body think that they can have important discussions without the input of its members? How will this impact our youth, elders and businesses?”
It’s with astonishment that Simon said she found out about the ongoing talks happening between the grand chief and outside governments. She expressed that this latest instance has left a bitter taste where she craves transparency.
“Keeping us in the dark leaves us feeling disrespected, minimized, unimportant and unheard,” said the community member. “Ignoring us is not the answer, however, the feds only talk to band councils, which is furthering the agenda of the council without its membership.”
On Thursday, June 17, Canada’s minister of Public Safety, Bill Blair, wrote on Twitter that he and other ministers had a “productive conversation” the evening prior about the community’s well-being.
Blair tagged Guilbault, as well as Indigenous Affairs minister Ian Lafrenière and Indigenous Services minister Marc Miller, on the message, which read that the talk was “about a path forward to improve the safety and security of First Nations people in Kanesatake.”
While Miller said he was not at liberty to share information about the meeting, he reiterated his commitment to ensuring the protection of community members.
“The safety of Kanehsata’kehró:non is the top priority in any of these discussions,” said Miller.
Lafrenière confirmed that he had received demands from the council regarding the proposal, and that discussions were in progress with colleagues from ministries such as Public Security.
“There are several scenarios we are looking at, including some with grand chief Simon,” said Lafrenière. “It has already been a while since we began working together and we are looking at all our options.”
While he explained that the process to find the best solution should not be rushed, Lafrenière said that the conversation “will not be set aside.”
For the grand chief, bringing back a local police service is the only answer to ensure the protection of the community.
“During my 10 years, it’s always been the same with the SQ,” he said. “You get a lose-lose situation where you have to choose whether you’re going to lose big or small.”
Although achieving consensus as an entire community is not as easily feasible, when it comes to best policing practices, Kanehsata’kehró:non agree that regardless of the topic: members must all be involved.
“In any relationship, secrets – even under the guise of what’s “best” for us – disrespects us even more,” said Amanda Simon. “Things must change because positive change only occurs when people know what’s going on.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door