Teams of heavily armed police were poised to crack down on native demonstrators who erected blockades during a day of protest in eastern Ontario in June, CBC News has learned.
CBC's The Current obtained a series of notes handwritten by Ontario Provincial Police officers that describe how Commissioner Julian Fantino planned a morning raid of the blockades set up overnight on June 28 on Highway 401, Highway 2 and a CN Rail line in the Kingston area.
The raid ultimately did not happen, and protesters removed the blockades peacefully later in the day on June 29. Mohawk protest leader Shawn Brant surrendered to police and was charged with mischief and other offences.
But the notes, written in the early morning hours of June 29, described the situation at times as "anarchy" and said Fantino "would not/could not tolerate the 401 being closed all day." The notes ask how long before the force would "lose credibility" over the situation.
The notes describe how the police tactical rescue unit, the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team, the emergency response team and the public order unit (riot squad) were all on standby on the night of June 28. A police helicopter and aircraft were also keeping tabs on protesters.
But according to the notes, Fantino decided to give the commander on site, Carson Pardy, the final call.
"I'm not about to put people at risk for a piece of pavement," Pardy is quoted as saying in the notes, which describe how officers would be put at risk in a crackdown.
The Current asked on four separate occasions for interviews with Fantino on the subject, but was refused.
"Since the matter is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate for the OPP to become engaged in a discussion regarding any details," OPP Insp. David Ross said in a statement.
Brant's trial is set to begin in January. At the time of the protest, he said he wanted a peaceful demonstration, but warned that he had weapons nearby if needed.
"We're not going to be fired upon and not be in a position to defend ourselves," he said at the time. "That's not going to happen. But we're certainly not going to fire the first shot."
Fantino, meanwhile, had vowed at the time to do his utmost to keep the protest peaceful.
Fantino warned of looming confrontation: protester
Native protesters have backed up allegations that the OPP were prepared to use force.
Mohawk Mandy Smart said she saw heavily armed police gathering in the area and heard reports from other protesters about similar sightings.
She said she met with Fantino at the OPP detachment in the town of Napanee, west of Kingston, at 2:30 a.m. ET on June 29, and he told her how concerned he was that Highway 401, between Belleville and Napanee, was blocked.
She stressed that there were children involved in the blockade and that peace was needed.
"The things that came out in that conversation was that [Fantino] did promise that if [protesters] did not remove themselves from the blockade by 6 a.m., that it would end in confrontation, absolutely," she told CBC News.
"He did not care if there were men, women or children behind those lines, because they chose to be there."
Blockades part of larger Day of Action
The blockades were designed to choke off the main transportation route for much of Canada's goods, in the hopes that it would cost the Canadian economy millions of dollars. The disruption was supposed to highlight the ongoing land disputes between native communities and Canadian governments.
In addition to the Highway 401 blockade, barricades were set up across a CN Rail line and Highway 2 near Deseronto, about 50 kilometres west of Kingston. The move prompted CN to suspend all rail service on the Montreal-Toronto corridor.
Traffic returned to normal on the 401 by 11 a.m. on June 29, but the other two blockades remained until almost midnight.
The blockades were part of a larger aboriginal Day of Action that involved a variety of peaceful protests across the country.