Thunder Bay

CN bridge offer 'bad faith', Fort William First Nation chief says

CN's final offer to reopen the James Street swing bridge amounts to "bully tactics", according to Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau.

CN denies accusation it demanded First Nation surrender lands near James Street swing bridge

Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau says she supports Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs in his rejection of CN's final offer to reopen the James Street swing bridge. (Jody Poretr/CBC)

CN's final offer to reopen the James Street swing bridge amounts to "bully tactics", Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau said at a news conference on Tuesday at Thunder Bay city hall. 

City councillors unanimously rejected CN's offer on Monday night, opting instead to seek a legal opinion on the validity of the 1906 agreement that allowed the bridge across the Kaministiquia River to be built.

Morriseau said CN's deal to repair the fire-damaged bridge that connects her community to Thunder Bay also included a provision directing the First Nation to give up any present or future land claims.

"The fact that they tried to somehow weasel that, or hide that, in that offer to the city is quite offensive," Morriseau said. "It just shows that as a big corporate citizen they have no regard for First Nation people."

CN responds

CN said its offer does not include any request for the First Nation to give up land.

"The Fort William First Nation had questioned the validity of CN`s title to its right-of-way and offered to grant title if CN reopened the bridge," said CN spokesperson Jim Feeney. "The issue remains unresolved, but CN has no intention of asking the First Nation to surrender lands."

That's not the way Morriseau sees it.

The chief said CN is using reserve lands without the required permits. It's a violation the First Nation said it was willing to overlook only if CN fully restored the bridge to two-way traffic. 

Morisseau said the First Nation has worked "tirelessly" to negotiate a resolution with CN but is now backing away and leaving the city to deal with the railway as per the original 1906 agreement.

"CN continues to operate in bad faith with take-it-or-leave-it approaches," Morriseau said, adding that the First Nation is now looking at other options, including building its own bridge so people can travel to the city without driving on the highway.

Feeney said CN has made "best efforts" to work out a deal with the city and the railway is disappointed its offer has been rejected.

The James Street swing bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic since it was damaged by fire in October 2013. CN's final offer to the city was to reopen the bridge to one lane of traffic in alternating directions, controlled by traffic signals.

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