Akwesasne-CBSA tension; Cornwall judge wants stakeholder meeting

In this Nov. 23, 2013, file photo, snow flurries start falling at the Canada Border Services Agency port of entry on Cornwall Island. Cornwall Judge Gilles Renaud is suggesting all parties involved between Akwesasne-CBSA relations should have a public meeting amid reports of escalating harassment between the two groups. There has been tension since reporting requirements for Akwesasne residents were introduced after the port moved off the island in 2009. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston, File)

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Editor’s note: The story has been corrected to show that Square was going to see her sick child in the hospital and not taking a sick child to the hospital.

CORNWALL – A Cornwall judge says he’s ready to have a public meeting or so-called “sentencing circle” with all stakeholders as tensions appear to be rising again between Akwesasne and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Gilles Renaud made the suggestion Thursday while handling a case of a single mother who rammed her vehicle through a border checkpoint in Cornwall in December, damaging the security gates.

He wants to explore the alternate form of justice if another case of alleged harassment comes across his desk.

Court heard Rikki Square’s was trying to get to the hospital in Cornwall to see her sick child but ended up being frustrated with the line of questioning from border agents. After smashing through the gates and going to the hospital, Square returned to the border to deal with the damage and paid a $1,000 vehicle forfeiture fine.

In his sentencing of Square, Judge Renaud cited a case several years ago where another Akwesasne man with a criminal record claimed he was being harassed because he crossed the border 15 times a day. The issue was resolved through a “reconciliation meeting” where the man withdrew his harassment complaint and the prosecution withdrew its case against the man for running the port.

“The same problem (between members of Akwesasne and CBSA) is coming to a head. So I’ll simply invite the various parties to suggest we have another type of community meeting. It may well be an ideal time for a sentencing circle so we can discuss this issue,” Renaud said.

“There is a perception that somehow the situation has gotten worse in terms of harassment,” the judge said.

“It is now becoming common. Whether it is escalating is difficult and to what extent it involves individuals who are smuggling as opposed to simply there is a frustration level and it affects anyone at any number of ways. There are a great number of individuals who are not members of the Akwesasne community who have also spoken about their frustration, whether they are going to the arena for lacrosse or hockey games. Whether they’re going to socialize. There are a great number of people who complain about the situation compared to what it was before,” Renaud said.

But the judge ruled the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the narrative about the sick child was a cover for smuggling activity. “It’s not a case in my view where the Crown can demonstrate that this individual was actively involved in smuggling,” Renaud ruled.

During submissions, Rikki Square’s lawyer, Gary Chayko, argued the smuggling problem has moved downstream to Quebec and now Akwesasne is unfairly targeted.

“What is happening is the residents of Akwesasne are getting fed up because they’re being targeted in their view and being stalked and asked to come in and being asked to produce identification and basically being harassed,” Chayko said.

Chayko also read part of Square’s pre-sentence report.

“She explained that, since the border relocation, all residents of Cornwall Island are required to report into border services officers every time they come to the City of Cornwall. She stated ‘they should have let’em have their guns’,” Chayko recited, referring to the federal government’s plan to arm border guards in 2009.

Chayko says the residents of Akwesasne are now being subjected to “what is in essence is a customs search every single day.”

He admitted the federal government has the right to run these mixed ports of entry but in the other cases it’s not an aboriginal community being “alienated.”

Crown attorney Ronald Turgeon had wanted a “short, sharp” sentence to drive home a message of general deterrence because running the border “is becoming and has for the last little while, been such a prevalent problem in our community.”

Turgeon argued the port of entry keeps stats of individuals and their crossings and secondary inspections. He suggested in some cases, where people have alleged harassment, “in the 100 or so crossings they’ve been referred to secondary twice. Going through the port and being subjected to questioning…is not harassment.”

The Crown was seeking 15 days in jail while the defence wanted a suspended sentence.

As for her sentence, Square was given a $1,000 fine with six months to pay but no restitution for the gate damage. With no photos of the damage, the Crown also couldn’t prove the damage beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown had also submitted an invoice for repairs – dated two months before the incident.

“She’s (Square) overcome a great deal of things. To be jailed even for a brief period of time may well jeopardize all the progress she’s shown. I don’t think this individual will be in the courts again,” Renaud ruled.