By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA-The Conservative government has asked the U.S. to allow the placement of a Canadian border post on American soil, according to a U.S. embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks, giving the clearest indication to date that Ottawa has decided to permanently shutter its customs office on Akwesasne Mohawk territory.
The Canada Border Services Agency pulled its guards and officials from the customs office on Cornwall Island on May 31, 2009. The decision came after the Akwesasne community said they would not allow the scheduled arming of border guards the following day. The situation shut down the Canada-U.S. border crossing, which sits between about 120 kilometres west of Montreal for more than a month, for six weeks.
During the shut-down, former public safety minister Peter Van Loan told U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson that Canada wanted to move its border post to New York State, according to a cable from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa dated June 10, 2009.
“Van Loan raised Canada’s strong desire for a unique shared port of entry on U.S. soil to replace Canada’s Cornwall Island crossing on Akwesasne Mohawk territory,” said the cable, titled, Ambassador Begins Meeting Canadian Leaders. “Van Loan acknowledged that it was a “big ask” and that he and (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary (Janet) Napolitano would be discussing it again in November.”
The Canada-U.S. border line cuts through the St. Lawrence River off the south-side shore of Cornwall Island.
Akwesasne straddles the Quebec-Ontario-New York State borders.
The CBSA has since set up a make-shift border post at the foot of the bridge linking Cornwall, Ont., and Cornwall Island, which sits on the St. Lawrence River. The federal government has so far refused to reveal what their long-term plans are for the border crossing.
The Canadian government drew public criticism from federal U.S. politicians during the border-crossing shut down which impacted the northern New York State economy. U.S. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer called the decision to shut the border “short-sighted.”
U.S. embassy officials in Ottawa also criticized the Canadian government for mishandling the ongoing issues in and around Akwesasne in general, according to a second cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa a month later.
“Canada has so far failed to devise a lasting resolution of the CBSA/Akwesasne dispute, sidestepping the key issues of sovereignty and effective law enforcement,” said the cable, dated July 30, 2009. “The sensitive file appears still to lack an integrated government response, as well as some tough political choices that could potentially alienate either the larger Canadian public, or the First Nations.”
The cable also noted comments by Akwesasne Grand Chief Mike Mitchell who said on July 21
that the removal of the border post “was the first step in creating a form of Mohawk sovereignty.”
Mitchell, according to the cable, said that the next step was to draw the international border around Mohawk territory.
Indian Affairs officials, however, downplayed the comments to U.S. officials, saying that while Mitchell’s career had been marked by a “continuous and aggressive pursuit” of sovereignty, he was prone to “certain rhetorical flourish,” the cable said. The Indian Affairs officials also said no one should be “rattled by his declarations,”
The cable goes on to state that Indian Affairs officials believed Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo’s election that summer would have no impact on the status-quo.
“(Indian Affairs) officials predicted that the AFN would continue to focus on poverty alleviation and economic development, rather than sovereignty,” the cable stated.