Tensions are flaring in Mohawk communities near Montreal after statements by the federal government and RCMP that outside police may raid the communities in search of alleged cigarette traffickers. RCMP commissioner Norman Inkster recently told reporters, “Should circumstances require, it’s entirely possible that we will end up enforcing the law on a native reserve.” Prime Minister Jean Chretien had similar words in the House of Commons, according to an article in the Montreal Gazette. “This enforcement will be applied everywhere and anywhere there is illegal smuggling activity.”

The statements, the boldest so far threatening police raids, provoked consternation among Mohawks. “Native communities once again are being scapegoated for something that’s not their problem,” said Andrew Delisle Jr., liaison officer for the traditionalist Mohawk Nation Office of Kahnawake. “It’s the same old business. They’ve got the law in their pocket and they’re using it to destroy our nation.”

Delisle said the RCMP presence outside Kahnawake has been stepped up. “They are driving right to the perimeter and shining spotlights at our checkpoints as if to say, ’Look, we’re back.’ It’s childish. I will personally hold those officers responsible if they provoke an incident.”

An internal RCMP memo obtained recently by a Toronto newspaper says the Mounties planned to raid several Mohawk communities in Quebec and Ontario. The Surete du Quebec has also appealed to the Quebec government for powers to intervene against alleged cigarette smugglers in the Mohawk communities. The stepped-up police activity is part of a government anti-smuggling plan, which included a $3 tax-cut for each pack of smokes.

Mohawks say the 1794 Jay Treaty grants them the right to bring goods across the U.S. border without paying taxes, but the government doesn’t agree. Statistics Canada reports that Mohawks control only five per cent of the illegal cigarette trade. The rest is controlled by organized crime. But according to some estimates, 70 per cent of contraband cigarettes enter Canada through the Mohawk community of Akwesasne which straddles the Canada-U.S. border.