The “Contraband” Raids are about PR: Interview with John Kane from “Let’s Talk Native”

Sureté du Québec Lt. Guy Lapointe shows tobacco seized by the Quebec police force at a news conference, April 30, 2014 in Montreal. Photo credit: Ryan Remiorz , THE CANADIAN PRESS.
Sureté du Québec Lt. Guy Lapointe shows tobacco seized by the Quebec police force at a news conference, April 30, 2014 in Montreal. Photo credit: Ryan Remiorz , THE CANADIAN PRESS.

Sureté du Québec Lt. Guy Lapointe shows tobacco seized by the Quebec police force at a news conference, April 30, 2014 in Montreal. Photo credit: Ryan Remiorz , THE CANADIAN PRESS.

by M. Cooke

“You don’t have to go to Kahnawake to combat crime. The government is trying to make us [indigenous people] look worse in the eyes of their public,” says John Kane, host of radio program “Let’s Talk Native” on WWKB 1520 out of New York.

The Mohawk radio personality believes that the police raids around Montreal, earlier yesterday, are more about public relations than targeting criminal organizations. He says that by criminalizing the trade and manufacturing of tobacco, the Canadian government is violating Mohawks’ rights to develop their own economies.

The April 30th police raids were the largest raids involving contraband tobacco in North American history. Over 400 officers were deployed in what was the culmination of an 18-month operation.  According to details acquired by the Two Row Times, 35 warrants were issued and 28 people were arrested, which included eight people from the Mohawk territories of Kahnawake and Akwesasne.

The timing on the raids couldn’t be better for the federal government as they are just a few days away from the third reading of the Bill C-10, the Tackling Contraband Tobacco Act.  This Act will criminalize all those involved in “contraband tobacco”, tobacco that does not comply with federal and provincial statutes, which means tobacco produced independently by native producers in their own territories.

Much of the media has emphasized the involvement of the mob in the transportation of the tobacco from the U.S. to Akwesasne. Kane says that those reports are helping justify the further regulation of the Native tobacco enterprises.

Also known as Bill C-10, if the Act passes its third reading, it will introduce mandatory minimums for those found with more than 50 cartons of contraband tobacco. The Act will also force First Nations police to work with provincial and municipal police to enforce the act.

Kane says that proposed laws like Bill C-10 are in violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

“The declaration states that we have the right to free, prior and informed consent. In addition, we have the right to develop our own economies. Both of which, the Canadian government is violating,” says Kane.

“The manufacturing and selling of cigarettes is an enterprise. It is the same thing they [multinational cigarette companies] are doing,” says Kane.

“When you criminalize our enterprises, it brings in nefarious characters. It forces your hand,” says Kane.

Kane ties the Canadian governments raids and legislation targeting Native tobacco enterprises to an ongoing history of colonialism.

“The Canadian and US governments have been trying to either assimilate or eliminate us. They don’t allow us to develop our own economies. They want us to remain in a ward-custodian relation,” says Kane.

By targeting Native enterprises, Kane says that the government is preventing the development of an independent economy and is instead forcing indigenous people onto welfare.

“They are trying to keep us on welfare and band council money. But most of us will never accept that scenario. We are going to continue to trade between our territories,” says Kane.

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