Skip to main content

Jews Not Allowed! Irish Need Not Apply! Pakis Go Home!

There have been times when Canada has heard and seen these slogans. There were times, odious times, when these sentiments framed our reality. Today, thankfully, we consider such sentiments and practices repugnant. Courts and human-rights commissions do, too.

Which makes what has been unfolding on the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake near Montreal all the more unsettling – indeed, totally indefensible.

There, any Mohawk who has married a non-Mohawk is being harassed and told to get off the reserve. "Marry out, move out" is the rule supported by the Mohawk Council. Beyond the council, groups of Mohawks on the reserve have been publicly pressing for evictions of Mohawks who formed relationships or married "outsiders." Could you imagine the furor if any other community told people they had to leave because of whom they married?

Finally, some of those being told to leave are going to court, objecting to the 1981 band rule that says anyone who marries a non-Mohawk must leave. Whether the Quebec Superior Court will give the seven plaintiffs justice is unclear, especially since Canadian courts have been tending to support the policy of radical parallelism now being pursued by aboriginals across Canada – an idea Mohawks have propounded for a long time. They were, and remain, ardent proponents of separate "nationhood," guaranteed by treaties, that gives them rights – regardless of whether these are consistent with Canadian laws.

Just recently, as evidence of this judicial tendency, an Ontario Court judge ruled against doctors at McMaster University who were trying to save the life of an 11-year-old aboriginal girl by continuing chemotherapy treatments. Instead, the judge ruled that the parents had an aboriginal right to reject the "Western paradigm of medicine" and use traditional aboriginal medicine.

The doctors said this treatment would lead to the child's death. But the judge ruled that the Constitution gave the mother the right to treat the child as she saw fit, even if the best "Western" medical advice insisted the child would die.

The Kahnawake rule has proven controversial before, but it remains on the books. The rule so obviously infringes on the basic rights of citizens, and is so obviously discriminatory, that it's amazing human-rights commissions, women's groups, politicians and aboriginal associations haven't lined up to denounce it.

But, then, people have become very afraid (for reasons of political correctness, one supposes) to say anything critical of aboriginal practices that offend the basic Constitutional rights of all Canadians. Also, more and more elite groups have come to accept the idea of radical parallelism in Canada, whereby neither the law nor political practice emphasizes what aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians have in common, but rather what separates us.

The Mohawk rule brings heartache to some who are proud of their aboriginal heritage. One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Waneek Horn-Miller, a very proud Mohawk who was once co-captain of Canada's Olympic water polo team.

Ms. Horn-Miller has always been an ardent defender of Mohawk rights. She was an activist at the time of the Oka crisis. She's living in Ottawa now while her partner finishes his medical residency, according to interviews she has given.

She wants to return with him and their two children to a home she owns on the reserve – except that under the band rule, she has committed the offence of hooking up with a non-Mohawk and therefore cannot reside in her own home.

Another plaintiff, who does not want her name used for fear of reprisals, has written several messages (to me) recounting how she has been harassed for marrying a Mohawk and trying to live with him on the reserve.

If even half of her claims are true, her situation is scandalous and should never be tolerated anywhere in Canada – except under the theory of radical parallelism, in which the laws of Canada do not apply in certain territories.

The band council argues that mixed relationships dilute the Mohawk blood line. The council insists that residents be pure Mohawk, defined as having four Mohawk great-grandparents. But in other contexts, this bloodline business has a long and tattered history. It has led to grievous examples of racial discrimination and pseudoscience.

The print version and earlier digital versions of this column incorrectly described the section of the Constitution guaranteeing aboriginal rights as Section 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, only the first 34 sections of the Constitution Act of 1982 constitute the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the aboriginal rights section, is not part of the Charter.