OPP arrest 10 demonstrators at Tyendinaga blockade site, charges pending
OPP says it asked protesters to go peacefully, adding 'use of force remains a last resort'
Ten protesters have been charged by Ontario Provincial Police officers who moved against the rail blockade near Belleville, Ont. this morning — where protests by the Mohawks of Tyendinaga have crippled passenger and freight train traffic for more than two weeks in solidarity with anti-pipeline protests in northern B.C.
Police and CN Rail had warned protesters to clear their encampments by midnight Sunday. Hours after the deadline passed, provincial police moved in and arrested several protesters. At least one was wrestled to the ground soon after police moved in around 8:15 a.m. ET.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the OPP announced that 10 demonstrators who were given the option of leaving the protest refused, were arrested and now face charges. All were released on conditions.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he expects trains to resume service swiftly now that the demonstrators have been removed.
"What CN has to do is do an inspection, once the area is completely cleared. If it's determined that the rails are fine, that everything is OK, then I would guess that in a matter of hours they'll have trains going," Garneau said.
But as the first train moved through the area around 7 p.m. Monday, protesters assembled near the tracks tossed a tire on the tracks and set it on fire.
First train passes by Wet’suwet’en solidarity camps in Tyendinaga. Demonstrators at the second camp respond by placing a tire on the tracks and lighting it on fire. <a href="https://t.co/TXySfifuJ8">pic.twitter.com/TXySfifuJ8</a>—@CBCOlivia
Journalists covering the protest were forced to move far away from the camp site, but video footage from the protest side showed a short struggle between protesters and police.
Real Peoples Media livestreamed the confrontation between OPP officers and Indigenous demonstrators.
Just before the 39-minute mark in the video, which lasts a little over an hour, an OPP officer standing at the front of a group of several dozen officers tells the smaller group of protesters to leave.
"You need to leave or you will be arrested," the officer said. "You need to leave now."
An Indigenous demonstrator, his face partially obscured with a bandana, can be heard telling the officers that he does not care about their demands and they should be the ones to leave.
"You're on sovereign territory, every single one of you, unceded, every single one of you," the demonstrator said. "Your ancestors came here, sick, tired and oppressed. Your ancestors came here wanting a better place and our ancestors took care of them."
WATCH: Police move in on Mohawk rail blockade
When asked to leave, he refused. "I'll stand where I want," he said.
Seconds later on the video, a scuffle breaks out between the man, some of the demonstrators and police. The voice of the cameraman can be heard counting the number of people he said he saw arrested, a number that is difficult to confirm based on the camera angle. The OPP later said it made 10 arrests.
The protest along the Ontario railway corridor began Feb. 6 in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose the construction of the $6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, restricting the transport of goods across the country over the past two weeks.
The OPP said in a statement Monday morning that it has a legal responsibility to enforce the injunction CN Rail obtained from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice earlier this month to end the demonstrations, adding that "use of force remains a last resort."
"We have remained respectful of the ongoing dialogue, including issues of sovereignty between our Indigenous communities and various federal ministers, and have hoped for productive communication leading to a peaceful resolution," said OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson.
"Unfortunately, all avenues to successfully negotiate a peaceful resolution have been exhausted and a valid court injunction remains in effect."
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde issued a statement after the arrests saying that the police action "shows once again that we will never achieve reconciliation through force."
"The Crown and industry have not learned the hard lessons from the Oka crisis, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake and Burnt Church," he said. "Upholding the 'rule of law' must include respecting and upholding First Nations laws."
WATCH: Reporter describes how quietly the OPP moved in before arresting protesters
Two industrial-sized tow trucks were brought in Monday afternoon to haul away a snow plow that has been part of the the protest site since the blockade began 19 days ago.
CN Rail said its crews are out inspecting the tracks.
"We are also monitoring our network for any further disruptions at this time," wrote a spokesperson in an email to CBC News.
A second encampment set up by the protesters nearby remains in place, Dickson told the Canadian Press.
Tires were seen burning in that location Monday morning. By midday, the encampment was still in place and some demonstrators banged drums and chanted while workers from CN, which owns the railway, arrived on site and started inspecting the tracks.
"We condemn the use of force being used ... on people who are standing up for human rights and the land and water," said a statement from the Mohawk people of Tyendinaga. "The rule of law includes human rights and Indigenous rights."
'Essential' for barricades to come down — Blair
The Mohawks of Tyendinaga said they would remain by the railway until the RCMP withdrew from Wet'suwet'en territory.
Earlier this month, B.C. RCMP enforced a court injunction against those preventing contractors from accessing the construction area for the Coast GasLink project.
On Friday, the RCMP in British Columbia moved its officers out of an outpost on Wet'suwet'en territory to a nearby detachment in the town of Houston. While the RCMP says it won't stop patrolling the area, the move partially addresses a demand made by the nation's hereditary chiefs late last week.
WATCH: Ministers react to arrests
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau changed his tone on Friday, calling for the barricades to come down.
"We cannot have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table. For this reason, we have no choice but to stop making the same overtures," he said.
Monday morning, he met with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and key members of his cabinet — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair and Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller — to discuss the blockades.
We’re focused on ending the blockades and supporting the Canadians impacted across the country. I called opposition leaders earlier today to give them an update on the situation and the work we’re continuing to do to find a peaceful and lasting resolution.—@JustinTrudeau
Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's office issued a statement after speaking with Trudeau earlier Monday, saying Trudeau showed "weak leadership" in his response to rail blockades and arguing the resulting "political unrest" led Vancouver-based Teck Resources to withdraw its application to build a massive oilsands mine in northern Alberta.
"These blockades are a dress rehearsal for protests against other projects across Canada," notes the Conservative media statement.
"Mr. Scheer asked the prime minister to take stronger action before these protests shut down the economy completely."
The protests prompted both CN and Via Rail to temporarily lay off 1,500 railway workers and disrupted the transport of food, farm products, consumer goods and essential items like chlorine for water treatment and propane for home heating.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was concerned about the use of police force and called for more dialogue during a press conference in Ottawa Monday related to pharmacare.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Monday the government is committed to its reconciliation agenda, but the rail blockades have had such a negative impact on Canadians that they have to come down.
"The impact of these real disruptions and the barricades is untenable. It can't continue, it cannot persist. It's absolutely essential that those barricades come down and that rail service be resumed," Blair said after the cabinet committee meeting.
"I think the police of jurisdiction are doing their job, and we'll let them continue doing their job."
Meanwhile, Quebec's Transport Department warned that Highway 344 is closed in both directions because Mohawks in Kanesatake, northwest of Montreal, have blocked the highway running through the community in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en chiefs. Highway 344 connects Kanesatake and neighbouring Oka.
The roadblock follows an earlier action in Kahnawake, south of Montreal, where Mohawks unhappy with Monday's police intervention in Ontario staged a rolling blockade that briefly disrupted traffic heading to a major bridge.
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake put out a statement condemning the OPP's actions at Tyendinaga, and Trudeau's comments Friday.
"The MCK feels strongly that today's police actions would not have taken place had Prime Minister Trudeau not made his inflammatory statements on Friday, leaving no doubt about his planned course of action," says the statement.
"We cannot state strongly enough our extreme disappointment in the absolute lack of good faith shown by a prime minister who continually expresses his government's priority is improving its relationship with Indigenous Peoples. What has happened over the past few days has, in fact, undone progress in building relations with Indigenous Peoples."
A few hundred protesters angry over the government's handling of the file are moving through downtown Ottawa today. Ottawa police are expecting traffic disruptions near Parliament Hill and ByWard Market and are asking drivers to avoid the area if possible until further notice.
With files from Olivia Stefanovich and the Canadian Press