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Highway patrol division in the works 

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In an unprecedented move, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) has committed about $4.5 million to the Peacekeepers for the creation of a specialized highway patrol division. It comes following a unanimous vote at a Council meeting this Monday. 

The funds will allow the police force to hire eight additional Peacekeepers who will be assigned to the division, Peacekeepers chief Dwayne Zacharie said, covering their training, salaries, and benefits for the next five years.  

“It’s a need. There’s a high number of complaints for traffic. We’ve had some fatalities on the roadways in our community,” Zacharie said. “This unit is going to be designed to try and make Kahnawake’s roads safer and more secure.”  

It will still take at least a year before the unit is up and running, he said, as those Peacekeepers will first need to undergo training.  

The MCK allocated roughly $1,059,000 toward the creation of the unit for the current fiscal year, which began this April. Roughly $726,000, $843,000, $871,000, and $1 million were committed for the subsequent years, Zacharie said.  

It’s a unit the police chief has long had his eyes set on creating. The federal and provincial government, however, weren’t willing to step up to make it a reality, he said. 

“We’ve been going through the process of trying to secure additional funds through our funding partners, the federal and provincial government, but that’s been an extremely slow and excruciating process,” Zacharie said, which ultimately led to the MCK stepping up.  

Council used to fund the police force but stopped after the 1990s, when it entered into a funding agreement with Quebec and Canada, said Ryan Montour, who leads the public safety portfolio.  

“We’re lucky that we had surpluses in the budget,” he said, adding Council has a responsibility to provide not only political and moral support to the Peacekeepers but financial support as well. “It has been a long time coming. I think it’s a quality investment to our essential services and it’s much needed.” 

The highway patrol unit will be assigned along highways 138 and 132, Route 207, around the Mercier Bridge, and along Old Chateauguay Road, Zacharie said, all areas where speeding and other driving infractions are rampant.  

“On a day-to-day basis, it’s probably in the neighbourhood of about 130,000 cars a day that come through Kahnawake,” according to Zacharie’s estimates. 

The commitment from the MCK to create the unit comes following years of complaints about traffic safety in the community, especially among those living along the 207. The hiring of more Peacekeepers was among some of the solutions brought forward at a community meeting held last September over the community’s concerns. 

“I really hope it goes through. That’s probably the most promising thing they’ve said thus far in all my years of living here,” said community member Vanessa Martin.  

Last fall she led a petition to Council demanding action be taken to address the dangers on the 207. Over 80 signed it within two days that September, following a fatal accident involving a motorcyclist on the road a few weeks prior.   

“I hope it’s just as they say it’s going to be – I really do,” Martin said. “With the warm weather this road is so crazy, it’s ridiculous.” 

Auditor general sounds alarm 

A report issued last month by Canada’s auditor general Karen Hogan found the federal government has left much of its funding allocated for First Nation police forces untouched.  

“We found that $13 million of program funds related to the 2022–23 fiscal year went unspent,” the federal auditor general wrote. “As of October 2023, Public Safety Canada was at risk of not disbursing over $45 million of funds for the 2023–24 fiscal year.” 

Though funding to First Nations police forces has increased since the office’s last audit of the federal government a decade ago, Hogan wrote there remains “critical shortcomings” when it comes to their financing. 

“Many issues have not improved since we first identified them in our 2013 audit of emergency management on reserve,” Hogan wrote. 

miriam@easterndoor.com 

This article was originally published in print on April 12 in issue 33.15 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.