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Mohawks lose border check-in challenge

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A Canadian court has rejected a motion that Akwesasne Mohawks face hardships in reporting to the temporary customs in Cornwall. The Mohawks sought to stop border officers from forcing tribal members to cross a bridge twice to get home. David Sommerstein reports.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Last summer, the Canadian Border Services Agency moved its customs checkpoint off Cornwall Island, on the St. Lawrence River, and onto the Canadian mainland in Cornwall.  It did so when Mohawks objected to the arming of customs officers on the Island, which is Akwesasne Mohawk territory.  The disagreement forced the closure of the port of entry for weeks.

The move created an unexpected difficulty for life on the cross-border reservation.  Mohawks on the U.S. side of the border now have to cross a bridge to Cornwall Island, then another bridge to Cornwall to check-in at customs, then cross back to the Island to reach their destination.  Wait times can exceed an hour.  Customs officers have impounded cars and fined violators up to 1,000 dollars.

The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne asked the Federal Court of Canada to force customs to make an exception for tribal members.  Grand chief Mike Mitchell said a motion was filed "due to the craziness of [Canadian customs'] reporting requirements and the hardships they have placed on the community of Akwesasne."

But Justice Anne Mactavish didn't buy the argument.  She dismissed the Mohawks' motion on Monday.  In a press release disagreeing with the ruling, Chief Mitchell said the court failed to consider Akwesasne's "uniqueness and geographic complexity".

Legal action over the temporary checkpoint in Cornwall isn't over.  Still pending is a judicial review of Canadian customs' decision to move the checkpoint off Cornwall Island in the first place.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein.

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