Aboriginal police forces who assisted in the 500-officer-strong June 14 drug raid on several Mohawk territories around Montreal said on Tuesday that ridding their land of drugs and organized crime would help guard the nations' cultural integrity as well as restore public security.
"For many years the community has suffered from the side effects of drug problems. If today's police actions lead to less drugs available to our people, including our youth, we will all be better off," said Kanesatake Grand Chief Paul Nicholas in a statement after the multi-agency roundup of 38 people, plus marijuana, cultivating equipment and pharmaceutical drugs from his and other territories. Raids were conducted in Kanesatake and Akwesasne territories, as well as some in the Montréal and North Shore regions, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said in a statement announcing the arrests.
Nicholas emphasized that the measures were meant to quell the twin problems of drug use and the drug trade plaguing residents and that those arrested should not be seen as the face of his nation.
"The people of Kanesatake, which majority is not concerned by these warrants, are however concerned that the presence of such a large number of policemen, accompanied by journalists, contributes even more to the negative image of this community that Kanesatake people wish to improve," he said.
Indeed, said the Association of First Nations Chiefs of Police of Quebec, whose members also participated in the raid, drugs and organized crime endangered traditional ways of life.
"The police operation conducted today should serve not only as a signal for the other First Nations communities, but most of all as a warning for criminal groups that take advantage of the status of aboriginal territories. Our communities can be vulnerable to organized criminal activity and to the violence and intimidation that often comes along with it," said the association in a statement. "Citizens must be made aware of the social and economic harm caused by organized crime. Citizens must mobilize against criminal groups to avoid falling prey to them or unwillingly becoming involved in their activities. Our First Nations peoples have taken up numerous challenges in the past to preserve the integrity of their culture, language and identity. We have always managed to overcome adversity and to survive as a nation. Organized crime and its destructive influence shall no longer impact the future of our communities."
The arrests dismantled "a criminal organization involved in a major drug-trafficking network,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.
“The purpose of today’s operation was not only to arrest key players in this criminal organization but also to disrupt a major network with connections to several external cels,” RCMP Corporal Caroline Letang told Indian Country Today Media Network.
The presence of provincial police and RCMP officers on aboriginal territory is a sticky one. Kanesatake was the flashpoint for the 1990 standoff between police and Mohawk protestors known as the Oka crisis, in which one person was killed. But Nicholas said that this time the police presence was welcome, and in fact assisted, by residents who are sick of illegal drug activities that are plaguing their communities.
"The community's fed up with the drug use," Nicholas told reporters for the Canadian Press and other media on June 14, outside the band council office, after several Kanesatake sites had been searched. "So if this raid translates down to less drugs being available, a lot of people will be satisfied with what happened."
Nicholas also said the problems reach beyond marijuana, according to the Canadian Press, and that cocaine and pharmaceutical abuse and trafficking are also prevalent.
The raid involved 500 police officers and was part of an investigation stemming from January 2010 called Project Connectivity “to address the concerns of the aboriginal community in the affected area,” the RCMP said in a statement. “The illegal activity in which the targeted criminal organization engaged involved the use of violence and intimidation and had a negative impact on the local residents.”
First Nations Police of Quebec and the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service worked with the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec, as part of the Aboriginal Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (A-CFSEU), a partnership designed in 2004 to combat aboriginal-based organized crime.
Marijuana cultivation was the main targeted element, but the drug operation also included pharmaceuticals and cocaine, the RCMP said. CBC News said that officers exiting one house in Kanesatake appeared to be carrying bags of pills. The alleged leader of the organization, Kanesatake resident Tyron Canatonquin, was among those arrested, the RCMP said.
Forty people were rounded up, 38 of them on warrants, after 13 searches, the RCMP said, adding that more arrests could be imminent.
“The officers also seized some drugs, firearms, cash and a hydroponic greenhouse on the premises,” the RCMP said. “The members of the network face a number of charges, including drug possession for the purpose of trafficking, drug trafficking and conspiracy.”