03/14/2012 12:58 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Kahnawake seeks Quebec's help in organized crime fight

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is seeking the help of the Quebec public security ministry to help its Peacekeepers fight organized crime in the aboriginal territory near Châteauguay, Que.

It wants to set up a SWAT team made up exclusively of Mohawks – but trained by la Sûreté du Québec experts in organized crime.

The council said it's facing increased pressure from the community to crack down on organized crime on its territory, not to mention concerns about its reputation among criminal elements outside the reserve.

"Some people have or had this impression Kahnawake is a lawless community, and they can move in here and set up shop," said Lloyd Phillips, the chief on council in charge of community protection. "That certainly is not the truth. Our community doesn't stand for that."

Uneasy relationship

Kahnawake has had an uneasy relationship with Quebec provincial police for decades - going back to 1979 when a Sûreté du Québec officer chased Mohawk steelworker David Cross, 28, onto the reserve and shot and killed him in the altercation that ensued.

The Mohawk Peacekeepers were established shortly afterwards, and provincial police have largely left policing to them ever since.

Peacekeeper Ryan Cross and his fellow officers know every corner of their community, but Ryan points out not all the faces are familiar.

"We have Highway 138, the Mercier bridge, the 132," Ryan said, in reference to the bridge and the major highways that criss-cross the Mohawk reserve. "We have to patrol that, and we don't know who we are pulling over."

The concern for Kahnawake Peacekeepers and the Mohawk community at large is that many of those faces belong to criminals who consider the territory a safe haven.

"It's a real concern for a lot of community members," said Kahnawake resident Jeremiah Johnson. "We've had infiltration from organized crime for many, many years now."

Tobacco profits fuel crimes, say RCMP

According to the RCMP, biker gangs, Italian mafia and Asian mobs all target the local tobacco trade, and use the profits to fuel a wide array of crimes.

"Organized crime will re-invest all of that money into other activities such as drug dealing, such as weapons smuggling, human smuggling," said Const. Jean Juneau of the RCMP Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.

Neither the provincial police nor the RCMP generally go into Kahnawake without permission, but with minimal budgets, the Mohawk Peacekeepers can do little more than basic policing.

Drug enforcement squad first priority

Chief Lloyd Phillips said that's why the Kahnawake council has turned to the Quebec government for help.

"There is some ongoing discussion as we speak with the public security minister," said Phillips. "We want to move forward with a drug enforcement squad within the Kahnawake Peacekeepers."

Public Security Minister Robert Dutil appears to be on board.

He has appointed a staff member to negotiate key issues, including what form the task force would take, what training is needed and how Quebec can help the Kahnawake Mohawks to better protect their own community.