TIL Canadians coming back from Cornwall Island have to go through Canadian Border Services Agency, without ever having left Canada, because the road checkpoint is on the mainland and not on the island itself.

Read more: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/16/cornwall-island-residents-sue-over-border-crossing-requirement-within-canada.html

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  1. Paywalled Article:

    The Mohawk residents of Cornwall Island face a barrier that isn’t faced by any other Canadians — they need to cross a border point of entry to access the rest of the country.

    That has rankled for a long time and so now they’re doing something about it.

    A team of lawyers has launched a class-action lawsuit in Ontario court on behalf of the Indigenous residents, claiming they are subjected to “illegal interrogation, inspection, detention and seizure” at the only border checkpoint of its kind in Canada.

    “The proposed class members experience humiliation and degradation on a daily basis by having to be subject to the suspicion and arbitrary detention by (Canada Border Service Agency) agents at the port of entry even though they are domestic travellers,” reads the statement of claim.

    The proposed class action suit is seeking $150 million in damages.

    The border agency said it doesn’t comment on legal matters.

    “The process for crossing at the Cornwall port of entry remains the same,” the agency said in an email to the Star on Wednesday. “Cornwall Island has a unique and complex set of challenges related to border management. To address these, the CBSA and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne are working in a Nation-to-Nation approach using design thinking principles.”

    In 2012, the Canadian government created a CBSA-controlled port of entry that requires the island’s residents to pass through it anytime they want to go into the nearby city of Cornwall on the mainland.

    Cornwall Island lies in the middle of the St. Lawrence River just south of Cornwall and just north of the Canada-U.S. border. However, the port of entry sits on the mainland, meaning islanders must cross a bridge and pass through it to access the rest of Canada.

    Cornwall Island is in Canada, but the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve straddles Canada and the United States.

    The federal government has essentially put up a border at Cornwall and empowered CBSA agents to treat the residents as if they are international travellers — even when they haven’t left Canada, says Toronto lawyer Cameron Fiske, whose firm is involved in the legal action.

    “This would be like forcing people from the Toronto Islands to go through a border when coming to downtown Toronto,” Fiske wrote in an email.

    The proposed representative plaintiff of the class lawsuit is Jody Swamp, a member of the Mohawk Nation who resides on Cornwall Island. The Attorney General of Canada and CBSA are named as defendants.

    In 2017, Swamp was arrested on multiple charges under the Customs Act after firecrackers were discovered in his vehicle when he was detained by a CBSA agent. Swamp told the agent he was coming from Canadian territory.

    In April, a judge in Cornwall agreed with the defence that the agent had no reasonable grounds to believe otherwise so the secondary search of his vehicle was unlawful.

    Swamp told the agent he was from Cornwall Island. Accordingly, he should have been treated as a domestic traveller, not a foreign arrival, according to the judge’s decision.

    The ruling stated that “domestic travellers are not to be subject to the regular search powers of the CBSA,” which are “very broad” for international travellers.

    The judge excluded the evidence of the firecrackers and dismissed the charges. The Attorney General has appealed the ruling and a hearing is set for September.

    The statement of claim for the proposed class action says that Swamp’s experience of arbitrary detention is common for many domestic travellers at the Cornwall checkpoint.

    Akwesasne residents who routinely conduct business in Cornwall, requiring them sometimes to go back and forth, have been subjected to harassment, searches and seizures of property, the statement says.

    Border guards at the port of entry also subject domestic travellers to inspection because they purportedly have family members with criminal records. “This is a form of discrimination,” the statement of claim says.

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