Akwesasne council blasts Public Safety Minister Toews over "John Wayne attitude"

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has taken on a “John Wayne attitude towards First Nation people” through his government’s plan to create a 50 RCMP officer task force and introduce tougher penalties to fight the underground tobacco trade, according to the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.

APTN National News
OTTAWA--Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has taken on a “John Wayne attitude towards First Nation people” through his government’s plan to create a 50 RCMP officer task force and introduce tougher penalties to fight the underground tobacco trade, according to the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.

Toews announced Tuesday that in addition to a new anti-contraband tobacco unit, the government would introduce a bill to set mandatory minimum jail terms for people involved in the black market tobacco trade.

“Sending additional troops from the RCMP isn’t going to resolve the contraband issue,” said a statement from Akwesasne Grand Chief Mike Mitchell. “There are already an insurmountable number of external policing agencies surrounding Akwesasne with the same goal.”

Toews’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

The RCMP said in an email to APTN National News that the new task force would get no new money and the cost would be absorbed under the existing budget. The RCMP also acknowledged that the rate of tobacco smuggling is decreasing.

“The RCMP contraband tobacco seizures have declined over the past few years, which indicates that our efforts have an impact,” said an emailed statement from the RCMP. “However, it remains robust and a lucrative activity for organized crime.”

The RCMP said the new task force would deployed “in areas known to have the highest level of contraband tobacco activity” including southern Ontario and the “central St. Lawrence seaway,” which is in and around Akwesasne Mohawk territory.

The majority of black market tobacco flows from the U.S., through Akwesasne and into markets across Canada. There are also informal cigarette factories in Kahnawake, which sits next to Montreal, and Six Nations, which is also home to an established tobacco firm called Grand River Enterprises.

Akwesasne has also seen a high level of marijuana, cocaine and human trafficking flow through its territory and the presence of organized crime elements has created tensions with local residents.

The Akwesasne council, however, said no amount of policing could ever stem the flow of smuggling because it thrives from the jurisdictional tangle that covers the Mohawk territory. Akwesasne district Chief Steve Thomas said Toews should have first visited and met with the people of Akwesasne before launching another wrong-headed plan against the tobacco trade.

“(Toews) would see that the problem isn’t the people of Akwesasne, but the multitude of borders that dissect Akwesasne into two countries, two provinces and one state,” said Thomas, in the statement. “The international boundary line zigzags around islands in the St. Lawrence River, making it extremely difficult for contraband to be seized and this weakness has been exploited by external criminal organizations.”

The territory of Akwesasne, which sits about 120 kilometres west of Montreal, crosses the Quebec, Ontario and New York State borders.

“The long-term solution…is removing the international boundary to one side or the other of Akwesasne…This would make our community whole again and the jurisdictional issues we face would cease to exist,” said Mitchell.

Akwesasne is currently negotiating with the Ontario and Quebec governments to legalize the tobacco trade through internal self regulation.

In the statement, the Akwesasne council said it is trying to replace the tobacco economy, which has kept the community from falling into abject poverty, with other types of economic development. The Mohawks own “nearly a hundred miles of islands” in the St. Lawrence River and are looking to develop cottage and tourism industries.

“Harsher sentences and more police are not the solution to a larger economic issue,” said the statement from the Akwesasne Mohawk Council. “Minister Toews seems to be bent on becoming a poster child of Idle No More with his John Wayne attitude towards First Nations people.”

First Nations people introduced Europeans to tobacco and the plant is used in sacred ceremonies. Many Mohawks see the tobacco trade as a right and do not recognize international boundaries imposed by nations they view as foreign.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.

6 thoughts on “Akwesasne council blasts Public Safety Minister Toews over "John Wayne attitude"

  1. This new force could be more useful in dealing with smuggled firearms, child luring, missing women or fraud. But Public Safety Minister Toes has declared war on the few who are not forwarding tax money to him in Ottawa. Make things illegal if you cannot tax the hell out of it. Look at this way with all the recent news about reserves being poorly managed, lacking sufficient funds the Mohawks have found a means to obtain income – worse possibly are the casinos and their impact on society. This “Tobacco Force” is quite a joke to many who have read the article. Suggestion to the Public Safety Minister use another ploy to deflect the real news about the RCMP – the passing of Bill C-42, which promotes the RCMP closer to becoming the PM’s private force.

  2. Then maybe Chief Thomas should ask for the reserve to be part of the US this way all of Akwesasne would be in US Territory. Problem solved!

    1. where is the follow up on the story from Laura Morris? They spoke to MCA about Toews did they forget about the other story from Akwesasne?

  3. Why do you always remove my post you do not want to report what is really going on.?
    Corruption runs deep at Akwesasne.

Comments are closed.