Justin Trudeau rebuffs request from Quebec police union for army help in Kahnawake
Union of Sûreté du Québec officers praised Premier Legault's controversial claim about the presence of AK-47s
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ruled out using the army to dismantle a rail blockade in Kahnawake, south of Montreal, despite a request from a union of provincial police officers for military assistance if asked to move in.
Trudeau said Wednesday he is still hoping for a peaceful and long-term solution to bring down the two remaining blockades in Quebec, which were erected last month in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia.
"As I've said many times, I do not think it is ever appropriate to send in the army against Canadian citizens," Trudeau said at an announcement in Saint-Jérôme, Que.
"It is really important that we settle the issue of blockades in a peaceful manner, in a way that will be lasting. We do not want to see these problems continuing to jump up every few months in the coming years."
The Quebec Superior Court issued an injunction against the Kahnawake barricade last week. A few days later, Premier François Legault said the Sûreté du Québec had yet to enforce the order because there are AK-47s in Kahnawake.
The comment was decried as "extremely inflammatory" and "reckless" by several leaders in the Mohawk community.
But Legault's statement was praised by Pierre Veilleux, the president of the Association des policières et policiers provinciaux du Québec.
In a letter sent to the premier last week, Veilleux said "even in a delicate situation, the truth always has its place."
Veilleux also advised the premier that any police effort to take down the encampment should be accompanied by a "specialized team" from the Canadian Armed Forces because of the alleged presence of assault rifles.
The police union provided media outlets with copies of the letter on Wednesday, after its contents were first reported by La Presse.
Const. Kyle Zachary, a spokesperson for the Peacekeepers, the police force in Kahnawake, said Veilleux's remarks were "irresponsible" and represent a "dangerous line of thinking."
He said the union's letter doesn't take into the consideration the safety of local residents.
"We are not even a secondary thought to him. So that's a problem."
He said there are women, children and elders at the protest site and that ending the conflict peacefully should be the priority.
CP rail allowed to inspect tracks
The blockade in the Mohawk territory has been up since Feb. 8, and crosses a Canadian Pacific Railway line used by both freight and commuter trains.
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.
Kahnawake residents met Tuesday to discuss whether to maintain or dismantle the encampment, but no decision was reached and it remains in place.
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake says it allowed CP Rail to inspect the tracks in the territory Wednesday afternoon.
The Peacekeepers, who police the territory, accompanied CP Rail workers as they drove machinery onto the tracks to partially clear some sections of snow and debris.
The barricade was still in place after the inspection.
Another barricade remains in place in Listuguj, Que., where Mi'kmaq activists have blockaded a rail line that connects the Gaspé Peninsula with New Brunswick. That too is subject to an injunction.
Via Rail service to resume
Most Via Rail passenger services are expected to resume over the weekend, the company announced Wednesday.
Via Rail, which uses Canadian National Railway tracks, expects full service to resume on the Montreal-Toronto line on Saturday and the Toronto-Ottawa line to resume on Sunday.
As of March 4, Via Rail says 1,071 trains have been cancelled because of the blockades, affecting more than 165,000 passengers across the country.
With files from La Presse canadienne