Quebec premier's claim that protesters have AK-47s at blockade 'reckless,' says Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
'Not only is that untrue, it's dangerous,' says spokesperson for Mohawk police force
An elected councillor of a Quebec First Nation says it was "extremely inflammatory" of Premier François Legault to say there are assault weapons at a rail barricade on Mohawk Territory south of Montreal.
Legault told reporters in Quebec City on Wednesday that provincial police have not dismantled the barricade because: "We effectively have information that confirms there are weapons — AK-47s, to name them," in the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake.
The premier did not specify whether he was referring to weapons located at the blockade itself or in the community at large.
However, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, an elected member of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said "using terms like 'armed' and 'AK-47s' is extremely inflammatory and, in fact, dangerous. It could be interpreted as an intent to incite a response."
Sky-Deer said the demonstrators have been peaceful.
Kahnawake Peacekeepers, who police the territory, have also called Legault's comments "irresponsible," saying there are no more guns on the reserve than anywhere else in the region.
A Quebec Superior Court justice issued an injunction Tuesday ordering an end to all blockades of Canadian Pacific Railway lines in the province.
The first Quebec blockade went up in Kahnawake on Feb. 8, in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia who oppose the construction of a liquid natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory.
Legault said the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) is "working on a plan to dismantle the barricades."
"They are speaking with the Peacekeepers, but obviously with people who are armed, it's delicate."
He said he does not want the injury of a police officer to rest on his conscience, and given the difficulty of the situation, he understands why the SQ "is taking its time to prepare an intervention."
The SQ's communications team appeared to be caught off-guard by Legault's remarks. When contacted by CBC News, a police spokesperson asked for time to provide a response, but still was not ready with a comment when contacted again an hour later.
And in Ottawa, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said his office is aware of Legault's comments but has no information about assault rifles.
"The police are very well prepared to deal with difficult situations," Blair said. "We trust the judgment and discretion of local and provincial police to ensure the safety of their officers and of Canadians."
'Nobody here in Kahnawake wants another 1990'
Both elected and traditional leaders in Kahnawake say the Mohawk Peacekeepers have sole jurisdiction in the territory.
The Peacekeepers indicated earlier this week they will not enforce an injunction, and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake reaffirmed that statement Wednesday, telling reporters that Peacekeepers are not working with the SQ to dismantle the blockade.
The force's communications officer, Const. Kyle Zachary, said Wednesday the Peacekeepers have not received an injunction yet, and they are not sure when they will.
Zachary said it is "irresponsible" of the premier to be talking about guns.
"We're trying to have the situation come to an end peacefully, and that kind of statement is counter to that," he said.
"To say that we all have AK-47s, not only is that untrue, it's dangerous.
"It's only going to exacerbate the situation. There are firearms on the territory, but there's no more than what are in Châteauguay or in Montreal. We have responsible gun owners just as anywhere else."
He said nobody in or out of Kahnawake wants "another 1990," referring to the Oka Crisis — a 78-day standoff between a group of Mohawk protesters and provincial police as well as the Canadian military that was triggered by an SQ raid in which a police officer was killed.
'Economic thoroughfares' in Kahnawake a 'shame'
Sky-Deer said Legault's comments play to a stereotype that the Mohawk people are not peaceful.
It might make it easier to justify charging into Mohawk territory to forcefully dismantle the barricade, she said, but it's not an accurate representation of the tight-knit community.
"We are a very peaceful people," she said, committed to protecting the environment and the Earth.
"We have now raised awareness [of] the issues, not only of the Wet'suwet'en, but about Indigenous people across the country and the reality that we're facing in Canada today."
Kahnawake's territory is criss-crossed with highways, the Canadian Pacific Railway line, a rail bridge and the Honoré Mercier Bridge, a major commuter link to Montreal. In the 1950s, the community lost its direct access to the St. Lawrence River, when riverfront land was expropriated for the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
"Shame on governments of the past for thinking it was a good idea to put all of their economic thoroughfares through our territory," said Sky-Deer.
"They put us in a position where — when we're not listened to or we're looked at as these lower-level people that don't have a voice and don't have an identity or don't have rights — we could take action to put us on the world stage."
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations' regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, said Legault "is making very dangerous and offensive comments by suggesting the presence of weapons in Kahnawake."
"He certainly did not consider the consequences of his words for community members who live with the memories of 30 years ago on a daily basis," said Picard.
He encouraged the premier "to be more careful on his public outbursts and instead promote a peaceful resolution."
With files from CBC's Sudha Krishnan, Loreen Pindera