Quebec asked for FBI help during 2004 Kanesatake crisis: U.S. diplomatic cables

Quebec authorities requested help from the F.B.I. after “gun slingers” from Colorado arrived in Kanesatake, the Mohawk community at the centre of the Oka crisis, to back a “resistance” force that sprung after a federally-funded raid of the territory ended in disaster, according to diplomatic cables obtained by APTN National News.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News

OTTAWA--Quebec authorities requested help from the F.B.I. after “gun slingers” from Colorado arrived in Kanesatake, the Mohawk community at the centre of the Oka crisis, to back a “resistance” force that sprung after a federally-funded raid of the territory ended in disaster, according to diplomatic cables obtained by APTN National News.

The RCMP and the Surete du Quebec also told U.S. officials they were concerned “deadly confrontations” could trigger a “full-scale raid” in the community as a result of the number of weapons stored in the territory that included “rocket launchers,” according to the documents.

The “confidential” cables from the U.S. consulates in Montreal and Quebec City were sent after the failed January 2004 raid ended in the torching of former Kanesatake Grand Chief James Gabriel’s home, forcing him to flee the community with his family.

Two U.S. diplomatic cables dealing specifically with Kanesatake were contained in a batch of confidential and secret cables provided to APTN National News by whistleblower website WikiLeaks. CBC-Radio Canada also received the cache of diplomatic cables.

Another cable dealing Kanesatake and the 2004 raid was released last week by WikiLeaks along with hundreds of other unclassified dispatches from the U.S. embassy and consulates in Canada.

The cables show that U.S. officials were at the time closely monitoring the situation in the Mohawk community near Montreal with concern following the botched raid that saw 67 First Nations police officers recruited from other Quebec communities descend Kanesatake.

The officers came in armed with assault rifles, shotguns, a sniper rifle and thousands of rounds of ammunitions under the stated mandate of targeting organized crime.

The officers, however, found themselves inside the local police headquarters trapped and surrounded by community members.

After the Quebec government negotiated an end to the situation with the help of Kanesatake’s sister Mohawk community of Kahnawake and their Peackeepers police force, it appears there was particular concern over the arrival of Mohawks from Canadian and U.S. reserves in case authorities attempted a second raid.

“Mohawks from other reserves continue to arrive in Kanesatake, including some from Colorado, to join in the resistance. Some ‘gun slingers’ have already arrived from the U.S., and more could come,” said one of the cables, from May 17, 2004 and sent by the U.S. consulate in Quebec City.

The cross border involvement appeared to trigger a request from Quebec public security ministry officials to ask for help from the F.B.I, the cable notes.

“The Quebec authorities have asked for greater coordination with the FBI on the situation,” said the cable. “Asked about U.S. role, the public security ministry officials requested…better coordination with the F.B.I in a situation where U.S. interests are involved.”

The cable also noted a similar request had been made by the public security minister at the time Jacques Chagnon.

The cable, titled Kanesatake Calm But Confrontation Continues, also delves into Kanesatake’s history to try to make sense of the situation in the community, and why the RCMP was hesitant to go in.

“The Quebec police (SQ) are more accepted than the RCMP. With long memories, the Mohawk remember that the RCMP killed one of theirs in 1916,” said the cable. “(Georges Beauchemin, secretary-general of Quebec’s Public Security Ministry) described the situation as akin to a family quarrel with people held hostage: the two embattled factions have been warring for 200 years.”

The cable described the situation in the community following the botched January raid as “several weeks of no-man’s land.”

Some community members continue to call for an inquiry to this day into the raid and the events that transpired under Gabriel’s leadership leading up to the event.

One incident came in 1999 when a man named Richard Walsh walked into CFB Petawawa pretending to be a Kanesatake police officer and obtained the confidential military file of Tracy Cross, a former Airborne Regiment soldier and police chief.

Walsh was hired by Gabriel to dig up information on community members, including Tracy Cross.

The issue is still a raw one with Cross to this day.

Walsh, who had a criminal record, was later detained by OPP and found in possession of intelligence file, including some from CSIS.

The NDP, which is now the Official Opposition following Monday’s election, has also backed calls for an inquiry into the situation at the time.

Some in Kanesatake believe that the Liberal federal government at the time wanted to ensure Oka never happened again and, through Gabriel, targeted the more sovereignty-minded members.

They saw a cynical calculation behind the decision to bring in First Nations police officers from other communities to raid Kanesatake. First Nations people shooting First Nations people would create less of political problem than if it involved non-First Nations police officers.

The situation came close to that scenario, the diplomatic cables have since revealed.

Gabriel, however, says his aim was purely to up-root a criminal element from the community, according to the cables.

He was forced from the community and “living high at government expense” in a hotel near Montreal, according to one of the cables. Gabriel told U.S. officials that Kanesatake was a haven “for marijuana cultivation, drug dealing, arms.”

Singling out two of his relatives, Gabriel described a community where between five to seven hundred pounds of marijuana grown in five underground bunkers was smuggled each week to the U.S., according to the June 23, 2004, confidential cable, from the Montreal consulate, titled: Kanesatake Grand Chief Gabriel Frustrated by Law Enforcement Inaction.

He described the involvement of the Hells Angels biker gangs, Chinese and Russian mafia groups in the drug trade that also included heroin and “other hard drug sales.” He said a local bank was awash in “American dollars,” the cable said.

Gabriel told the U.S. officials he was frustrated with the Quebec and federal government’s “unwillingness” to “bring law and order” to the community.

“Gabriel said the current situation is very different from 1990, when the Kanesatake population and Mohawks from other Quebec reserves supported the Mohawk Warrior’s stance,” said the cable. “He said the traditional Mohawk Warrior Society, which stood up during the Oka crisis, and ‘the group of thugs’ calling itself warriors in Kanesatake today are different.”

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The Cables

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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.