Community members say more dialogue and less politics is needed policing Kanesatake

While the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake under its Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon herald the Quebec government's intention to talk about reinstating the community's police force, some in the community would like to see security built within the community away from the taint of politics.

A party at the Green Room cannabis dispensary last weekend that drew hundreds and outraged many community members and surrounding citizens sparked calls for a change in policing and criticism of the Surete du Quebec (SQ) patrols that are tasked with patrolling the situation.

Members of the community said they called the SQ to intervene, but the squad cars remained at the foot of the hill until well after the party was over.

John Harding is from the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community about 40 minutes north of Montreal. He is a former police officer with Kanesatake's police force in addition to being a former council chief and SQ officer.

He was one of the community members who went to the scene on Saturday afternoon and evening to protect local property and try to get party-goers off the territory without incident.

He was unimpressed with the SQ's lack of prompt intervention once it was clear the party was attracting too many people.

"The police came up as people were leaving. Their (SQ) basis for responding was not the party, it was because there were people on top of the hill with baseball bats and blocking traffic," said Harding.

Those with bats and two-by-fours were, Harding and others said, community members keeping cars from parking in their driveways and people from destroying or littering surrounding property including the Kanesatake Pine Hills Cemetery.

Harding asked an SQ officer why they would come because people were trying to calm the party down and not because the party got out of hand.

"It's political for them," he said.

Harding added that a similar party in Oka Park a few weeks earlier prompted a police response, and the party was over.

Why, he asked, could the SQ not drive up the hill to end the party?

"Within one hour, it was cleared up," he said. "Here you had kids, older adults just coming here and saying we can do whatever we want. There's no law here. And, tough luck for you guys, we were partying here and that's that."

Simon told CTV News last week that SQ intervention would sometimes cause more problems due to past issues. He has long promoted establishing a local police force independent from the MCK much like the Kahnawake Peacekeepers.

Tracy Cross is Kanesatake's former chief of police and said regardless of possible trouble, the SQ needs to intervene when called upon.

"How do you start a complaint? You make a phone call to the SQ and the SQ is supposed to investigate," said Cross. "They're not supposed to sit down a hill and wait there for four hours and say this political. And then when you've got people defending their land, that's their mandate, their mandate is to protect life and property."

Former RCMP corporal Jeremy Tomlinson is planning to run for Kanesatake's council elections this year, and would like to see policing developed based on grassroots consultation before going to outside governments.

"More often than not, we look at it with a very narrow view of the situation, and we tend to look at it with a very colonial view, a very colonial lens in that our community, absolutely needs policing," he said. "I've worked in policing for almost 20 years, worked in First Nations policing the majority of my career, and I can firmly test that although a lot of good work can be attained and there's a lot of good people working in policing, policing is not the solution to all of the issues that we have."

He said more discussions need to happen in Kanesatake before going to Quebec and Canada to form a policing body.

The three men agreed that there are divisions in their community, but that it is not an excuse to avoid internal dialogue.

"We are looking for a cookie-cutter colonial solution to a problem that was caused by colonization and continued colonialism, so why not get our people together start facilitating dialogue, discussion, respectful relationships in between each other," said Tomlinson.