Cigarette seekers are igniting ire in Kanesatake

John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

Even though Kanesatake smoke shops shut their doors over a week ago, in keeping with provincial health guidelines, non-Indigenous people looking for tobacco products have continued flocking to the territory. 

Many are ignoring closed business signs, entering blocked parking lots, and breaking social distancing protocols in their search for cigarettes.

"I've seen them turning into one store after another. They get out of their cars and try looking into buildings. They're even knocking on the doors of nearby homes desperate to find cheap tobacco to purchase," said Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon.

He said the actions of these unwelcome visitors is endangering the lives of residents.

"It's angering many of our community members that others would be so selfish as to expose our people to this virus. We don't want anybody coming here unnecessarily and wandering around our community the way they've been doing," said Simon.

According to the Mohawk community leader, more than 50% of Kanesatake residents have health complications that would render catching COVID-19 fatal.

"Since first contact, many First Nations civilizations have been wiped out by disease. Today is no different. We have a lot of people in our community who suffer from underlying conditions at a rate higher than the national average. It puts them at higher risk of death from the virus," he said.

The Grand Chief said anyone caught bothering community members will be dealt with severly, including being banned from returning to the territory.

"People here need to feel like they're safe," said Simon. "I want people to stay away for their own safety until things level off and it's okay for us to resume sales, whenever that will be."

Only two stores remain open on the territory to provide essential goods and neither one will be selling tobacco until all stores reopen.

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