More blockades, protests in Quebec as First Nations respond to Tyendinaga arrests

Mohawks in Kanesatake have blocked the highway near the very spot where a barricade stood during the 1990 Oka Crisis, in response to the arrests of 10 people in Ontario as authorities there attempted to end protests that have paralyzed rail traffic in Eastern Canada.

Shades of 1990 Oka Crisis Monday, as Kanesatake Mohawks shut down access to community northwest of Montreal

Protesters warn journalists to move back as they block Highway 344 in Kanesatake Monday, just metres from the spot where Mohawks set up a barricade at the start of the 1990 Oka Crisis. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Mohawks in Kanesatake have blocked the highway near the very spot where the barricade stood during the 1990 Oka Crisis, in response to the arrests of 10 people in Ontario as authorities there attempted to end protests that have paralyzed rail traffic in Eastern Canada.

The barricade in Kanesatake, 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, is blocking Highway 344, the main road running through that Mohawk community. Several journalists were turned away as they approached it.

Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist from Kanesatake, said earlier Monday she couldn't say how long the barricade would be in place. 

"We're going to see how the day goes. But the point is, we can do this," Gabriel told a small group of journalists, including a CBC Montreal reporter.

"It's a show of solidarity. It's on our territory. We have every right to do it. If we want to take it down today, we can just put it back up tomorrow."    

By early evening, Mohawk protesters had opened one lane of Highway 344, as well as checkpoints set up on other roads in and out of the community, and were verifying vehicles before allowing them to pass.

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A spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec said officers were "watching the situation very closely."

The barricades at Kanesatake were among several protest actions taken across Quebec Monday by First Nations communities angry that the Ontario Provincial Police had forcibly dismantled the encampment in the Mohawk territory of Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont.

A man and child walk towards a blockade set up in Kahnawake Mohawk territory south of Montreal on Monday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

That camp, which blocked traffic on rail lines owned by Canadian National, went up more than two weeks ago after RCMP officers in British Columbia tried to break up protests led by Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would run through their territory.

Just hours after the OPP operation in Tyendinaga, Mohawks from Kahnawake, south of Montreal, led a slow motorcade along highways 132 and 138, which snarled traffic leading to the Mercier Bridge, one of the busiest links to the island of Montreal.

Kahnawake Peacekeepers express solidarity

Kahnawake residents have set up their own blockade along Canadian Pacific tracks that run through their territory, which has disrupted both freight and commuter rail services. The number of people at the Kahnawake blockade swelled to near 50 not long after the arrests began in Tyendinaga. 

Both traditional and elected leaders in Kahnawake criticized the OPP for taking action while negotiations are underway to end the dispute in B.C.

"We are really, really upset that the OPP acted this way at this time," said Kenneth Deer, secretary of the Mohawk Nation in Kahnawake, which represents the traditional Iroquois Longhouse political system. 

He said the motorcade that slowed traffic Monday morning demonstrated "potential of what we could do if we wanted to." Kahnawake Mohawks blockaded the Mercier Bridge, along with highways and rail lines running through their territory, during the Oka Crisis.

Kahnawake's elected grand chief, Joe Norton, said our "people are angry; they're upset. I have one hell of a job trying to calm things down now in the territory." 

At an emergency community meeting in Kahnawake Monday evening, Dwayne Zacharie, the chief of the Mohawk Peacekeepers, the Indigenous police force on the territory, said the Peacekeepers have no intention of acting on any injunction to dismantle the barricade.

Lac-Simon, Rimouski, Listuguj also see protests

The OPP operation in Tyendinaga Monday morning sparked demonstrations elsewhere in Quebec, as well. 

In Lac-Simon, an Algonquin community near Val-d'Or, Que., people showed their support for the Wet'suwet'en chiefs by protesting next to the highway that runs by the reserve, although not blocking traffic.

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. (Luc Paradis/Radio-Canada)

In Rimouski, a handful of black-clad protesters blocked train tracks while holding up signs with anarchist slogans and calling for the RCMP to leave Wet'suwet'en territory. CN Police obtained an injunction to break up the protest, but as officers approached, the protesters dispersed. 

On the Gaspé Peninsula, members of the Listuguj Mi'gmaq Nation continue to block a regional rail line that runs between Quebec and New Brunswick.

On Monday, Mi'gmaq protesters also prevented several trucks from crossing their territory and distributed flyers to passing motorists.

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.

But Quebec's transportation minister, François Bonnardel, said Monday that the provincial government hasn't ruled out eventually seeking an injunction to clear the tracks in the Gaspé.

"We're convinced that dialogue and communication is the best thing, but … everything is on the table."

Premier again raises prospect of police intervention

As protest actions escalated around Quebec, Premier François Legault reiterated his impatience with the rail blockades, which have prevented shipments of various goods from entering and leaving the province.

As he has in the past, Legault again raised the prospect of police intervention on Monday. 

"Quebecers have suffered enough. The barricades must be dismantled. I trust police to act in due course. I can't tell you more than that," Legault said while visiting his riding just east of Montreal.

In Rimouski, a handful of black-clad protesters blocked train tracks while holding up signs with anarchist slogans and calling for the RCMP to leave Wet'suwet'en territory. (Julie Tremblay/Radio-Canada)

"We're trying to talk with the [Kahnawake] Mohawks, but at a certain point the blockades have to be dismantled," Legault said. 

Asked if police intervention would simply stoke tensions, the premier replied: "Look, this has lasted 19 days. I think Quebecers have suffered enough."

Norton, the elected chief of Kahnawake, warned the premier that recourse to police force would only lead to further confrontation.

"There's going to be no police coming in here to do anything. We will protect ourselves," Norton said.

With files from Jessica Deer, Sudha Krishnan, Kate McKenna and Radio-Canada