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Civil suit filed by Mohawks against Canada Border Services Agency

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AKWESASNE – The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne has issued a release notifying the public that a civil suit has been filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on behalf of Sarahlee Skidders, a 24-year-old Akwesasne community member who was allegedly unlawfully detained by CBSA agents.

On Dec. 30, 2011, Ms. Skidders, who is paraplegic and suffers from Type I Diabetes, was travelling to Cornwall from Kawehno:ke (Cornwall Island) and stopped to report at the CBSA Port-of-Entry in Cornwall, according to a release issued by the Moohawk Council of Akwesasne.

Following questioning, she was sent to secondary inspection and detained against her will for five hours. Ms. Skidders repeatedly asked if she could leave, but was informed by CBSA guards that she was facing criminal charges unless another individual surrendered himself to the border agency for an unrelated incident. CBSA believed this individual to be Ms. Skidders’s boyfriend. Over the course of several hours, Ms. Skidders was repeatedly questioned about this individual, the vehicle accident that left her paraplegic, threatened with additional charges if she did not cooperate, and was told she would be removed from her wheelchair if she attempted to leave, the release charged.

At one point a heavy chair was placed in front of her wheelchair to prevent her from leaving. She was given water after three hours of being illegally detained, but denied food, Mohawk Council officials said.

After five hours of false imprisonment, the individual wanted by CBSA learned of Ms. Skidders’ detainment and voluntarily arrived at the port-of-entry. Ms. Skidders was then released without any charges.

In short, Ms. Skidders was effectively held hostage by CBSA and was used as leverage, or bait, to force the surrender of another individual, according to the release.

She was intentionally harassed and intimidated, and her illegal detention was a serious violation of her basic human rights, they charged. She suffered severe anxiety, fear and distress during and since the incident and struggled to maintain her diabetic health in the days following.

“MCA receives many complaints in regard to mistreatment of community members by CBSA officers at the Cornwall Port-of-Entry,” said Grand Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell. “Most are deplorable, but this incident is particularly reprehensible.”

The claim was served on the defendants – CBSA and five CBSA officers – on Feb. 3, 2014. It seeks damages in relation to Ms. Skidders’ false imprisonment and breaches of her rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms.

“It is unfortunate that incidences of this nature have continued to occur at CBSA,” Chief Brian David said. “At times we seem to be going in the right direction… just next month we are conducting cultural sensitivity training sessions with CBSA officers. However, basic human rights continue to be violated and we remain committed to defending our community members and demanding justice and change.”

MCA has no further comment at this time.

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