Cablegate: Quebec Government Criticised for Handling Of

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1.SUMMARY: The Quebec government of Premier Jean
Charest is facing scrutiny and criticism for its
handling of recent factional disputes at the Kanesatake
Mohawk reserve though a violent clash was averted (at
least temporarily). After the home of Kanesatake Grand
Chief James Gabriel was burnt to the ground, and some
60 native police officers were held prisoner in the
Reserve's police station for 30 hours, a group of
dissident Mohawks accepted a compromise brokered by
Quebec's Minister of Public Security Jacques Chagnon.
Gabriel, a reformer who has decried the presence of
organized crime and drug trafficking on the reserve,
told the media he was betrayed by the Quebec
government, which he said had earlier pledged support.
Kanesatake (population 1400) is located 50 kilometers
northwest of Montreal, near the municipality of Oka,
the site in 1990 of a 78-day standoff between armed
Mohawk Warriors and police forces including Canadian

2. The burning of Mohawk Grand Chief James Gabriel's
house and the blockade of the Kanesatake police station
were apparently sparked by Gabriel's decision to fire
the Reserve's police chief and hire some 60 law
enforcement officers from 19 native but non-Mohawk
tribes. According to press reports, Gabriel's decision
followed a leak that foiled a scheduled RCMP raid. On
January 7, a communique signed by three dissident
chiefs warned Kanesatake residents that the RCMP would
be coming onto the reserve on January 11. The
communique also accused Chief Gabriel of wanting to
shut down the many tobacco shacks on the reserve where
"duty free" cigarettes are sold.

3. At a Montreal press conference 1/13, Gabriel denied
he wanted to eradicate the shacks, which have
mushroomed from a handful to about thirty in less than
a year, noting that in the 1990s when the tobacco trade
was threatened band members turned to dealing in drugs.
Gabriel and Terry Isaac, whom Gabriel had hired to lead
the newly created force, said that their goal was to
battle organized crime, which they claim has a very
strong presence on the reserve.

4. Gabriel had the support of three other Chiefs on the
seven-member Kanesatake Band Council. However, three
dissident chiefs have tried various means, including a
recent referendum, to have Grand Chief Gabriel
recalled. On the basis of his slim majority in the
Council, Gabriel was taking steps to reform the
reserve's police force, which was under the control of
a Police Commission dominated by dissidents. Gabriel
also said he had received promises of protection and
help from the Quebec Ministry of Public Security.
However, with his house burning, and the newly arrived
police officers held hostage at the Kanesatake police
headquarters by masked, armed men, Gabriel was forced
to flee the reserve with his wife and four young
children. Minister of Public Security Chagnon
negotiated a settlement of the stand-off with the
police commission and reinstated the police chief that
Gabriel had fired.

5. Premier Charest and Public Security Minister Chagnon
defended the province's actions, saying that their
first objective was to avoid bloodshed and a prolonged
standoff. Charest and Chagnon both raised the specter
of the 1990 Oka crisis, which resulted in the death of
one policeman, a situation they didn't want to see
repeated. Answering critics who suggested the Quebec
government was caving in to criminal elements, Chagnon
displayed some irritation with Gabriel for acting too
hastily and for not sufficiently consulting all
stakeholders before bringing in the outside native
police officers. Chagnon implied that Gabriel's
evidence of organized crime operations on the reserve
was insufficient. And Chagnon also criticized Gabriel
for not mentioning to him in a November 8 meeting that
he was about to get $900,000 from Canada's Solicitor
General to help fight organized crime at Kanesatake.

6. Georges Beauchemin, Secretary-general of Quebec's
Public Security Ministry (and a key figure in resolving
the Oka crisis), told Quebec City Consul General Keogh-
Fisher that the situation in Kanesatake had been very
dangerous, "with both sides armed and ready to shoot."
However, he said that outside intervention by Quebec
provincial police would have been seen as an invasion
and "pushed good guys on the side of bad guys."
According to Beauchemin, Grand Chief Gabriel was lucky
to have escaped with his life. He told the CG that the
progressive elements ("the good guys") are less
organized than the criminal elements. Somewhat
wishfully, Beauchemin suggested that the Mohawks need a
more structured, efficient police organization which
could produce evidence that will stand up in court in
order that criminals in Kanesatake could be prosecuted.
Beauchemin believes that such a court process would
send a message to other Mohawk communities with similar

7. On 1/15, Quebec's top first nations chiefs gave a
press conference throwing their support to Gabriel.
Grand Chief Ghislain Picard, who is Regional Chief of
the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador
said the first nations chiefs were concerned by Quebec
government actions, noting that Quebec had chosen to
negotiate with a minority rather than with the duly
elected majority. The Chiefs also announced that they
would be setting up a special fund to collect money in
order to build a new home for Gabriel. Picard added
that organized crime is a problem many reserves have to
confront; he said Quebec had sent the wrong signal to
all the First Nations by disavowing a Grand Chief who
was working to fight organized crime. He added that
the Grand Chiefs will be less inclined to take part in
future coalition force operations, given Quebec's
handling of the Kanesatake situation. The chiefs at
the press conference stressed the current situation is
very different from the Oka crisis of 1990, which was
set off by Mohawk concerns that a community neighboring
the Kanesatake reserve intended to expand its golf
course into a Mohawk ancestral burial ground.

8. Recent newspaper articles report that marijuana
cultivation in Kanesatake is netting various
individuals millions of dollars annually, because of
the blind eyes of native police and the reluctance of
RCMP and Surete du Quebec to enter Mohawk reserves.
According to these reports, the cultivation is spread
out between several hydroponic installations and
outdoor fields. The hydroponic greenhouses produce five
or six harvests a year and are difficult to detect
because they are heated with gas-powered generators
(thereby avoiding incriminating heavy electricity

9. Comment: Cynics have suggested that Premier
Charest was anxious to avert a major crisis before his
trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum next week.
(He may have been reminded that the 1990 Oka stand-off
received considerable negative publicity in Europe,
where there is strong public sympathy and fascination
for the culture and plight of North American native
populations.) While the Charest government's
intervention may have precluded a violent clash this
week, the possibility remains that confrontations have
only been deferred. End comment.

10. The Consulate in Quebec City contributed to this


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