First Nations in Quebec stage protests after police move in on Ontario railway blockade

Police efforts to dismantle a railway blockade in Ontario have led to a series of protests by First Nations in Quebec, including one that snarled traffic on Montreal’s Mercier Bridge.

A motorcade of Mohawks from Kahnawake slowed traffic on Highway 132 in the direction of the bridge this morning, while Mohawks in Kanesatake blocked Highway 344, which runs through their own community.

The protests are in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the construction of the $6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline through their territory in northern British Columbia.

Earlier Monday, Ontario Provincial Police moved in on a railway blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., angering those who say the conflict could have ended without police intervention.

Deer said negotiations are underway in British Columbia that could have led to a peaceful resolution.

“We are really, really upset that the OPP acted this way at this time,” said Kenneth Deer, a follower of the traditional Iroquois Longhouse political system and secretary of the Mohawk Nation in Kahnawake.

“It could have been avoided.”

Mohawks will maintain their barricades in Kahnawake and could take further action, Deer said.

“We are here to support the chiefs, and they have asked for the RCMP to withdraw,” he said. “When the chiefs are satisfied, we will take them down.”

He said the motorcade that slowed traffic going through Kahnawake toward Montreal this morning shows the “potential of what we could do if we wanted to.”

Minister not ruling out injunction

Quebec’s transportation minister, François Bonnardel, said he hoped the OPP operation in Belleville would herald the end of the blockades in Quebec, as well, over the next 48 hours.

“We’re following the situation, minute by minute,” he told reporters in Sherbrooke, Que.

Along with the blockade in Kahnawake, members of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Nation have blocked a regional rail line that runs between Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula and New Brunswick.

Neither Canadian Pacific, which owns the rail line that goes through Kahnawake, nor the Quebec government, which owns the line through the Gaspé, have sought injunctions to remove the protesters.

Bonnardel didn’t rule out the possibility that his government would eventually seek an injunction.

“We’re convinced that dialogue and communication is the best thing, but … everything is on the table.”

A group of protesters blocked the highway that runs through Kanesatake Mohawk territory Monday. (Submitted by Al Harrington)

Bonnardel also said those blocking traffic around Montreal were hurting the prospects of constructive discussions with the government.

“That is not the right thing to do,” he said of the Mercier Bridge protest.

“We hope for dialogue, for communication. We’ve repeated that several times. We don’t want to impose a hard line, but this certainly is not the way to have a frank discussion with authorities.”