World, Americas

Canadian police dismantle blockade, arrest protesters

Mohawks ignored midnight deadline to leave

Barry Ellsworth   | 25.02.2020
Canadian police dismantle blockade, arrest protesters

TRENTON, Canada 

Dozens of Canadian police officers moved in Monday to break up an Indigenous blockade that shut down the main passenger train route between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.

The protesters ignored a deadline of midnight Sunday to leave, and a few hours later, police closed in around 8 a.m. EST.

The Mohawks began the blockade on Feb. 6 in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who opposed a $6 billion natural gas pipeline crossing their territory in the Canadian west coast province of British Columbia. The elected chiefs of all 20 Indigenous bands affected by the pipeline gave approval for the project, including the Wet’suwet’en.

But the hereditary chiefs said the elected officials’ jurisdiction ended at the reserve boundaries, while their authority covered the rest of the territory.

They and supporters blocked the project, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved in to remove them.

Railway blockades sprang up all over Canada as other tribes showed their support for the five hereditary chiefs, the first barricade erected on Mohawk land at Tyendinaga Territory about two hours east of Toronto.

At one point, most freight and passenger train service ground to a halt across the country, and the transport of essential goods was paralyzed. The Canadian National Railway sought and received court injunctions to remove the barricades, but police declined to enforce the injunction at the main blockade at Tyendinaga.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at first said the situation should be resolved through “dialogue.” But as it dragged on, he finally had enough and said three days ago that the blockades had to come down because they were detrimental to the Canadian economy and the railway had laid off about 1,500 employees.

“Here is the reality. Every attempt at dialogue has been made,” Trudeau said. “The discussions have not been productive. We can’t 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. Of course we will never close the door on dialogue, and our hand remains extended should someone want to reach for it.

“But the fact remains, the barricades must come down now. The injunctions must be obeyed and the law must be upheld.”

Quebec police moved in quickly to remove a blockade near Montreal. But Ontario police, who have a history of violent clashes with the province’s Indigenous peoples, waited a few days before moving into action Monday.

Details are sketchy as police vehicles blocked views, but it is thought multiple arrests were made.

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