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Congressman sends letter to Canada’s Governor General seeking Bravery Medal answers

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MASSENA - Rep. William L. Owens wants more answers behind Governor General David Johnston’s decision to award Akwesasne Mohawk Police Constable Michael Biron a “Medal of Bravery.”

Mr. Biron had been in a high-speed police pursuit on Cornwall Island in November 2008. The suspect in the pursuit, Dany Gionet, slammed into a car carrying Edward and Eileen Kassian of Massena, killing all three.

The Governor General presented Mr. Biron the award last month for attempting to save the Kassians from their burning vehicle. The award drew the ire of the Kassian family and others in the Akwesasne and Massena communities who felt he was responsible for causing their deaths.

Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, had promised the Kassian family he would seek answers from the Canadian government. He submitted a letter to the Governor General on Wednesday to express his concerns about the award.

“While Mr. Biron and another officer were exonerated of the charges relating to criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death in Ontario Provincial Court, these are grave accusations and call into serious question the selection process that was used to determine Mr. Biron was eligible for such an award,” he wrote in the letter.

Mr. Owens wondered whether the Kassian family’s pending lawsuit against Mr. Biron, Sgt. Kenneth Chaussi the tribal police and governments of Ontario, Quebec and Canada were factored in to the award decision.

He was also concerned about the award because of another accident last fall in Hogansburg that claimed the lives of Dakota Benedict, 22, and Amber Aliff, 19, of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. Mr. Biron had been pursuing Ms. Aliff’s vehicle after it ran a stop sign that night. The pursuit persisted into Hogansburg, where Ms. Aliff lost control of her vehicle and struck a tree, killing her and Mr. Benedict. The pursuit had reportedly ended moments before the crash.

“While no charges have been brought yet against Mr. Biron in connection with this incident, I am concerned with the timing of this award given the ongoing investigation being led by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police,” he noted.

Efforts to reach Mr. and Mrs. Kassian’s son, Douglas, were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon, as were attempts to reach the Governor General’s office.

Marie-Pierre Belanger, a media relations officer to the secretary to the governor general, previously said a detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Chancellery of Honours completes a review of each of the nominees.

“Witnesses, investigators and police officers are contacted as part of the research process,” she said in an email. “The normal nomination and file review process was followed.”

Akwesasne Mohawk Police Chief Jerry Swamp confirmed last week Mr. Biron had been reassigned away from road patrol duties.

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