Quebec is discussing the possibility of an Indigenous police force with Kanesatake

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Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault confirmed Monday that discussions have been underway "for some time" with Kanesatake leaders about bringing an Indigenous police force back to the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory about 40 minutes north of Montreal.

At a news conference Monday in Longueuil, Guilbault did not hide her irritation at the party that attracted several hundred people to the Green Room local cannabis shop Saturday night in Kanesatake.

The partygoers had massed along Highway 344 and disrupted the neighbourhood and many community members for several hours.

Roadblocks were set up late in the evening by the Surete du Quebec (SQ), but despite the lack of respect for sanitary measures, no tickets were issued, as police officers limited themselves to checking motorists for impairment.

Both Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon and Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon criticized the SQ for not doing more to stop the party before it got out of hand.

"Obviously, this type of gathering is discouraged, whether it is in Kanesatake or elsewhere," said Guilbault. "We have also seen them at beaches and parks lately. We understand the overflowing enthusiasm of the citizens after months of confinement and we wish that people go outside, to raise their spirits, to see each other and all that, but there are still rules in place and it is important to respect them."

After the weekend's event, Simon again called for the creation of an Indigenous police unit on the territory like the Kahnawake Peacekeepers on Montreal's South Shore community.

"We are aware of the request," said Guilbault, noting that discussions to this effect involve her colleague responsible for Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafreniere.

On Sunday, Premier Francois Legault also opened the door to such an eventuality by expressing his great displeasure following this incident.

Guilbault said, however, that such a move is not without its pitfalls.

"Our Indigenous police forces in Quebec are funded 52 per cent by the federal government, 48 per cent by the provincial government. There are always tripartite agreements, so there is a complexity there," she said.

The Kanesatake police force was disbanded in 2004 following internal disputes that turned violent when the home of then MCK Grand Chief James Gabriel was burned down and the police station placed under siege by protesters opposed to Gabriel's replacement of the then Chief of Police.

Since 2005, SQ police officers have been responsible for patrolling the territory, but their presence has been poorly received by community members since the Oka crisis in 1990 and they rarely venture inside the boundaries of the territory.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 14, 2021. 

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