It sounds like such a wacky little story, or even a joke: The Cornwall Regional Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional force, and the Canada Border Services Agency, have made a big bust of…smuggled chicken.
Let the why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-border funnies begin.
But what the border cops found on Feb. 18 – a total of 1,804 pounds or about 820 kilos of spoiled poultry recovered from an un-refrigerated truck stopped at the port of entry and later in a Cornwall private residence – is really just the logical extension of what’s been happening in and around the notorious Akwesasne Mohawk Territory for years.
Cigarettes, raw cut tobacco, weapons, cars, trucks and SUVs, snowmobiles, currency, drugs: You name it, it’s probably been smuggled into Canada at the crossing at the Seaway International Bridge, or as it was delicately renamed 11 years ago in recognition of the Akwesasne Mohawks, the Three Nations Bridge.
(There are actually two bridges. The south channel one spans the St. Lawrence Seaway; the north channel bridge connects Cornwall to Cornwall Island, which is part of the reserve.)
The task force, which is made up of Cornwall city, OPP and RCMP officers, with support from the border agency, the Ontario Revenue Ministry and federal and provincial prosecutors, was started up again last spring after being disbanded in 2000. Police say that as much as 90 per cent of the cigarettes smuggled into Canada come from Akwesasne, where there are reportedly as many as 10 contraband factories on the U.S. side of the reserve.
According to RCMP Sergeant Lee Cote, “We’re hoping it’s [the smuggled poultry] a one-time deal. In the past 10 years or so, it’s the first time we’ve seen it.”
Two men, one from Quebec and the other a Cornwall resident, were arrested at the time, and are expected to be charged, perhaps as early as Thursday, with offences under the Customs Act and the Meat Inspections Act.
Police suspect the tainted meat may have been destined for Quebec, since the seized vehicle was registered there. “But it was going somewhere,” Sgt. Cote said.
And where contraband tobacco directly affects only those who smoke, if tainted or bad meat also begins to flow through reserves, or if this seizure were to be just the top of the iceberg, the public-health consequences could be staggering.
The chicken bust also provides a timely opportunity to revisit the bizarre situation that exists in Cornwall for the border agency.
It was in May of 2009, in the wake of Ottawa’s decision to arm border guards across the country and in anticipation of the Cornwall guards actually starting to carry firearms on June 1 that year, that the agency abruptly closed its port of entry, then located on Mohawk land on Cornwall Island.
While this exit was usually publicly portrayed as evidence of guards’ meekness and described as quiet, a fact sheet issued at the time by the guards’ union, the Customs and Immigration Union, paints a rather different story.
According to the union’s three-page release, the intimidation tactics by May 31 had “escalated from Mohawks and supporters gathering around the office and walking in to stare down the officers [this went on during the weeks leading up to May 31] to four bonfires burning around the CBSA compound and about 200 Mohawks gathered around the office, many dressed in camouflage with scarves covering their faces, with a bulldozer ready to go.
“By then, the Warriors had made threats through the media that they would swarm the office and disarm the officers themselves should the agency proceed with the arming.”
After the Akwesasne chief and chief of police announced they could no longer ensure the guards’ safety, the release says, and “given the situation was now on a certain path of violence, the only rational decision that could have been made was taken – to shut down the office.”
Officers left by the U.S. side, “meaning they had to go home to their families via a friendly third country that night, having been subjected to what can only be described as a concerted act of terrorism.”
Many of these elements – threats and intimidation, masked protesters, bulldozer at the ready – were also present in the native occupation at Caledonia, Ont.
The union release went on to note that the Cornwall border crossing was easily the scene of the “the most dangerous situations” facing border guards, including the post being “shot at numerous times” (it was later fitted with bulletproof glass).
The crossing remained closed for several weeks, but by July of 2009, the border agency announced it was opening a temporary facility at the base of the north span of the bridge, in Cornwall.
It is still being described as the “interim port of entry,” almost two years later.
This is a very long way of saying that the answer to the why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-border question appears to be, “Because it can.”