Canada Customs officials walked off the job Friday afternoon, citing a fear for their safety after a 23-year-old Mohawk woman called her grandmother to come to the Customs where she was allegedly being harassed. Fallon Davis of Cornwall Island was passing through the Customs Friday morning and was asked to proceed towards a special vehicle that x-rays cars in search of illegal items. According to witnesses, the Customs Officials began to harass Davis and "provoked the entire incident." Her vehicle was searched thoroughly but Officers would not tell her what she had done wrong. At one point, Customs Officers say Davis threatened to call in the "Warriors", apparently in reference to a long-defunct society known as the Warrior's Society.
Without guns for protection, the Customs Officers notified their Supervisors that they were concerned for their safety and citing a section of Canada's labor laws, roughly six employees "withdrew their services." Police were called in to safely escort the x-ray vehicle off of Cornwall Island and Canada Customs put together a contract with the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service to have 24-hour a day protection provided at the Port of Entry, according to Chris Kealey, Communications Manager for the Canada Border Services Agency.
According to Kealey, the incident is being reviewed by Canada Labour and interviews are being conducted. "We are looking into the matter and we have videotapes..." Kealey said. "Our Officers have to abide by a Correction Officer Code. If we find that Officers were in some way neglectful, they will be held accountable." The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne announced Tuesday that they are launching an investigation of their own.
"The MCA believes that there are better ways to resolve the situation including respectful and meaningful meetings to negotiate the practical exercise of Akwesasne Mohawk Crossing Rights," said MCA. Since the Friday incident, the Akwesasne resident lane, or "Indian Lane", at the Canada Customs has been closed.
"The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne does not agree that this incident should have warranted the closure of the Akwesasne Mohawk Lane or induced Customs to bring in armed security forces," MCA said. "The MCA also believes that the Akwesasne Mohawk Security Guards have provided Customs security for more than 20 years without incident and have assisted in keeping a peaceful co-existence between the Akwesasne Community and Canada over border crossing issues."
However, said that the Indian Lane will probably be reopened once the Labor Department's investigation is complete. "We believe that it's a temporary thing," he said. Friday's incident prompted many officials to accuse the Customs Officers of using Davis and the incident as an excuse to push for armed weapons at the Customs. Kealey said that at other Customs Ports across Canada, walk-offs have been motivated by the employees' desire to carry weapons, but he believes it was not the case in this incident. "We're satisfied that that was not the motivation," he said. "We don't think the two are connected." Kealey also believes that the incident is isolated and that Canada Customs receives "very, very few complaints." "We have a well-founded relationship [with community members]," he said. The MCA, however, stated in a Press Release that they believe there has been an increase in harassment at the Customs, particularly against "young Mohawk women." "Recently there has been a change in the interpretation of the Akwesasne Remission Order by some Customs Officers that has caused some confusion and anxiety in the community," the Release read. "It appears that some Akwesasne young people have been targeted or tricked into responding incorrectly when Declaring personal or community use goods at Customs."
The Akwesasne Remission Order was put into place in 1991 recognizing the Border Crossing Rights of Akwesasne Mohawks.