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Kanesatake grand chief wants to banish arsonists as community reels from loss of CrossFit gym Social Sharing

From link to article by Jessica Deer Mar 16th, 2019

When a suspicious fire destroyed a local gym in Kanesatake earlier this month, Karennahawi McComber said she felt like she lost a part of herself.

The mother of three worked out at KanehsatakeCrossFit three to six times a week with friends and family from the Mohawk community about 50 kilometres west of Montreal. The local business went up in flames during the early morning of March 4.

“It actually hurts,” she said.

“A part of me wants to be that resilient person that is going to say it’s going to get better, and then another part of me is grieving.”

McComber was one of the first members to sign up when the CrossFit gym opened its doors on March 13, 2017. She said the sport and gym has had a positive impact on her life.

Karennahawi McComber was one of the first members to join Kanehsatake CrossFit when they opened in 2017. (Karennahawi McCombe/Facebook)

“When you don’t believe in yourself, there is always someone standing there who does,” said McComber.

“To have that taken away — something that is a positive, life-changing-thing — I think that’s what got a lot of people in the community who don’t even CrossFit upset.”

Youth centre burned last year

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) is investigating and is asking witnesses to call their criminal information centre at 1-800 659-4264.

“The fire is considered suspicious; that doesn’t mean it’s criminal,” said SQ public relations Sgt. Marc Tessier.

“We have to wait for the investigation to move forward if we’re able to determine the cause.”

The incident was the second large fire in Kanesatake in under a year, among a string of fires in recent years. 

Last July, the local youth centre burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was deemed electrical, but Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said the building had been the target of arson attempts twice in the past.

Simon said for many, the most recent fire at the CrossFit gym is the last straw.

“Sometimes the first one is the last straw. Sometimes it’s the fifth, 10th or 11th. This one here happened so close to [the youth centre fire]. Two big fires and two attempts in less than a year. I think the community has really had enough,” he said.

“I know I have had enough. I am sick and tired of it. If we catch them, they should be expelled and thrown out of here permanently or whatever the community decides.”

He issued an open letter on March 8 condemning it the CrossFit fire as an act of arson and wants to banish those found responsible.

“It’s heartbreaking that the community has to go through these losses all the time,” said McComber, who is the manager of child and family support services for the Kanesatake Health Center, and provided programming at the youth centre.

Her children aged, 12, 15, and 16, also frequented the centre.

“It’s a traumatic experience for everybody,” she said. 

Cannabis dispensary targeted

A day prior to the CrossFit fire, there was also an attempted arson down the street at one of the dozen cannabis dispensaries in the community. 

It marks the second time The Medicine Box has been targeted in the four months they’ve been in operation.

“It’s a really sad time for everybody. There’s no words,” said owner Dave Belisle.

The business was operating out of a converted shipping container but has since moved into a cigarette store on the same property due to smoke damage from the first fire that occurred on Feb. 17.

A suspect was recorded on video surveillance footage, but it’s not being investigated by the SQ “due to the industry,” said Belisle. The SQ also confirmed the only fire they’re currently investigating is the one at the gym. 

“There’s not many avenues we can take. Even if we weren’t a dispensary, we don’t get much support from the SQ anyway,” said Belisle.

“We’re on our own.”

He said the situation doesn’t help the perception of the cannabis industry within the community, which is unregulated by Quebec or the Mohawk Council.

The desire for a new police force

The Mohawk Council announced in January that it planned to consult the community on cannabis regulations, but Simon said the lack of a community police force will make rules difficult to enforce.

“If we don’t have a police force in place, we can enact any laws collectively or otherwise and it won’t fly. So, what’s the point?” he said.

He’s adamant provincial or federal police presence in regulating the industry would make things worse. While Simon said the SQ have discussed the issue with the Mohawk Council in the past, he’s worried that one day they might raid the dispensaries without the council’s consent over public security concerns if arson attempts persist. 

“They’d light the match to a much wider fire,” said Simon.

Kanesatake has been without a police force since 2004, following a conflict between former grand chief James Gabriel, police and some residents that led to his house being set ablaze. What remained of the abandoned police station burned in a suspicious fire in 2015.

The Mohawk Council has been trying for seven years to establish another community police force. They’d also like a fire department as they currently rely on firefighting services from surrounding municipalities. 

“The fire station goes without saying with all the arson we’ve seen, but if we don’t have security it wouldn’t be as beneficial to the community,” said Simon. 

They’re also the early stages of a $40 million proposal to Indigenous Services Canada to construct an aqueduct and wastewater system that would also mean the ability to have fire hydrants in the community. 

“It’s still years away,” said Simon about the project.

No one has ever been charged in any of the suspicious fires.

A $10,000 reward is being offered to anyone with information that leads to a conviction in the most recent fire and the Mohawk Council is adding $5,000 to the reward. 

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