Simultaneous raids to bust up a smuggling ring were supposed to occur on the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve almost two weeks ago. But they never happened. Apparently, the RCMP and Montreal Urban Community police called off the joint operation because too many people in Kahnawake knew the raid was coming. As details of the aborted mission became public last week, a hail of criticism was launched against Quebec Public Security Minister Pierre Belanger. Liberal critic Roger Lefebvre was irate and asked, "who is the boss of public security" - the government or Joe Norton, Kahnawake band council chief? In an interview broadcast on Pulse News, Lefebvre bitterly complained that "there are two systems of justice - one for Native people and one for everybody else."
Ironically, Lefebvre was reiterating what Native people have been asserting for decades. One recent example was the trial and sentencing of OPP officer Kenneth Deane in Sarnia this summer. Deane was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death in April after the 1993 shooting of Stony Point protester Dudley George. Although Ontario Court Judge Hugh Fraser ruled that Deane shot and killed a man he knew was unarmed and then fabricated a story - lied in court - in order to hide his guilt, the judge's July sentencing provoked anger and disbelief in Native communities across the country; for killing an Indian, Deane was sentenced to two years less a day. To add insult to injury, the judge ruled that Deane was not to go to prison but instead would serve his sentence through 180 hours of community service.
But despite Lefebvre's less-than profound observation that two systems of justice exist, it's unlikely that he or any other politician will ever take responsibility for justice denied. But it is not just an issue of justice - history is too long and the roots of prejudice run too deep. When I called a friend in Kahnawake and asked about the raid that never happened, "not on the phone" is all she would say. Another time, I was leaving the reserve in a van after helping move some furniture. It was late and I stopped to fill up the tank - the gas attendant indicated a dark car parked on the shoulder across the road and asked "is someone following you?" It was understood that it could be an unmarked police car looking to bust anyone taking "contraband" cigarettes or booze off the territory.
Phone taps and police surveillance are a part of life foreign to most people who call themselves Canadian. Most Canadians can't understand why Indians don't pay taxes, vote in elections, believe in laws handed down by the government - or even consider themselves Canadian. Why keep bitching about treaty rights, land claims and self government when there are more pressing concerns like national unity, economic growth and CTV's Thursday night line-up? Perhaps more appropriate questions to ask are whose laws are being broken and whose borders are being crossed? Whose values are deemed important and whose language is used? Who controls the purse-strings of power?
When the answers are given, maybe then we can talk.