Montreal

As Quebec rail blockades come down, supporters demand Indigenous rights be respected

The remaining blockades halting rail traffic in Quebec were taken down Thursday, putting an end to three weeks of protest in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. But supporters said they would continue to hold government to account.

Encampments blocking lines through Kahnawake, Listuguj had been in place since early February

After dismantling the rail blockade, Mohawks from Kahnawake built a new barricade in a green space near Montreal's Mercier Bridge on Thursday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The remaining blockades halting rail traffic in Quebec were taken down Thursday, putting an end to three weeks of protest in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia.

Supporters in Kahnawake, a Mohawk territory on Montreal's South Shore, and in Listuguj, where Mi'kmaq activists had blocked a rail line that connects the Gaspé Peninsula with New Brunswick, dismantled their encampments Thursday afternoon.

But they stressed their fight isn't over.

In Kahnawake, people marched through the streets, temporarily blocking traffic, with a banner that read: "Protect our future. No more pipelines."

Roxann Whitebean, a filmmaker who lives in Kahnawake, said the decision to take down the blockade on a CP Rail line should be seen as a message of "good faith to all of Canada."

"Depending on how Canada moves forward, we are ready to react and we will ensure that our rights and lands will no longer be violated. We will not back down until these standards are met," she said.

Roxann Whitebean, a Mohawk writer and filmmaker, addressed reporters in the middle of the highway. She said Indigenous rights must be respected. 2:06

The encampment was relocated to a green space near the Mercier Bridge, a heavily trafficked connection between Montreal and the city's South Shore.

"We want the fire to be visible for every commuter that crosses the Mercier Bridge, to show that we are here to stay for as long as the Wet'suwet'en need us," said Whitebean.

"We will be closely monitoring the situation in Wet'suwet'en as well other Indigenous communities."

The blockade in Listuguj, Que., was taken down soon after. Raquel Barnaby, a spokesperson for Mi'kmaq activists, said their goals had been met. 

"Our goals were for the RCMP to back away from the Wet and for hereditary chiefs to be at the table," she said. "We just want to end it on a positive note."

Supporters in Listiguj took down their encampment Thursday. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

Other blockades across Canada have already come down. 

Over the weekend, Wet'suwet'en chiefs and representatives of the federal and B.C. governments announced they had reached a draft agreement concerning some of the issues involved in an ongoing dispute over a pipeline that would run through traditional land.

Quebec Premier François Legault's government had expressed growing impatience with the Kahnawake blockade, arguing it was hurting the province's economy.

Injunctions were obtained against both barricades, but never enforced. 

Legault told reporters last week Quebec provincial police hadn't moved in because there are AK-47s in Kahnawake. The comment was decried as "reckless" by leaders in the Mohawk community.

After the blockades came down, the premier said on Twitter the "negative effects that these blockades had, particularly on public transport users & on the economy, are deplorable. Solutions must be found so that it does not happen again."

Highway 132 near the Mercier Bridge was briefly blocked after the barricade in Kahnawake was dismantled. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

In a statement on its website, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake said Thursday the blockade was a "sincere and peaceful expression of support" for Wet'suwet'en chiefs.

"Even in 2020 it seems that it takes a crisis for governments to truly engage," said Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton.

"We have been advocating for meaningful dialogue in the interest of peace and safety for all people."

Supporters of the blockade in Kahnawake say they want Indigenous rights to be respected. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)