OPP dismantles Tyendinaga blockade, some demonstrators taken into custody
TORONTO -- Several people were taken into custody Monday as police moved in and began dismantling a blockade near Belleville, Ont., sparking condemnation from the Mohawk of Tyendinaga.
A stream of police cruisers, vans, unmarked vehicles, and dozens of officers, including some wearing what appeared to be tactical gear were seen flooding the Mohawk blockade shortly after 8:00 a.m. EST. Some demonstrators scuffled with officers before being taken away and an ambulance was seen leaving the area, although it was unclear what kind of injury may have been sustained.
Andrew Brant, a land defender with the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, told CTV News that he had spoken to someone who was close to the demonstrator injured in the struggle, and alleged that they had been “hurt by the police.”
He said that more than 10 people had been arrested on Tyendinaga territory so far, calling the situation “exhausting.
“It’s affecting everybody, really. It’s affecting peoples’ moms, dads, grandparents, children, everything.”
The East Region OPP posted on Twitter on Monday that “all demonstrators were given the option of leaving the site or being arrested.”
They added that 10 people were arrested and face multiple charges, and that all have been released on conditions.
While the OPP were descending on Tyendinaga, the RCMP were also seen entering Unist’ot’en territory in British Columbia, according to a statement from the Mohawk group. Unist’ot’en is a clan within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, which sparked protests across the country after its hereditary chiefs first demonstrated against the construction of a $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline expansion project that would go through their land.
“This has come at a time when (Indigenous Services) Minister Marc Miller as well as the Mohawk People in Tyendinaga and the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs were told there would be an announcement at noon today that the RCMP was going to be leaving their territory,” the Mohawk statement said.
The B.C. RCMP, which enforced an injunction on Wet’suwet’en land to allow workers to start construction on the pipeline, said on Friday that it has temporarily closed its mobile office on Wet’suwet’en land, but were still patrolling the area.
The Mohawks of Tyendinaga originally set up camp near the railways nearly three weeks ago in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and have maintained throughout that they would vacate the railways as soon as they received word from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs that the RCMP were no longer on their territory.
“(The police are) treating us like we’re some kind of terrorists,” Brant said, “when really all we had was one (requirement), and it was to get out of property that doesn’t belong to them.”
Molly Wickam, a spokesperson for Gidimt’en Camp -- one of the Wet’suwet’en camps set up during their initial standoff with RCMP -- told CTV News that they were keeping track of how often RCMP were patrolling their lands.
She alleged that RCMP have continued to harass, arrest and detain Wet’suwet’en people on their own territory even after they moved their main force to Houston, B.C.
While she acknowledged that the big conversations regarding the conflict between RCMP, Coastal GasLink and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs will take time to resolve, she said she didn’t understand why OPP decided to raid the Mohawk railway camps instead of waiting for the Wet’suwet’en requirements to be met, which would lead to the railway blockade dissolving peacefully.
“The demands that the Wet’suwet’en put out in order to sit down and have those conversations? They’re not big asks,” Wickam said. “The asks are that the company, CGL, Coastal GasLink, temporarily halt their construction, which they aren’t scheduled to do any construction in our territory until spring anyways, and that the RCMP vacate (the area, and cease) harassing and targeting and illegally arresting our people and our supporters and guests on our territory.
“Those are not huge things to ask in this so-called free country.”
Things settled down in Tyendinaga after the initial flurry of activity and the area turned quiet by late morning, with police seen speaking to a still-large contingent of demonstrators as parts of the barricade were slowly being removed.
A number of OPP were also monitoring a secondary blockade near Highway 49, just east of the main one, where a large fire was lit about an hour after authorities first moved in. Demonstrators there appeared to be digging in with no intention of leaving.
The blockades and protest actions have all been set up beside the tracks, and have at no point been blocking the tracks themselves. However, they are too close to the tracks for trains to safely move through.
Speaking to CTV News later in the afternoon, Tessica Brant, of the Turtle Clan of Mohawk Nation, said that they “don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”
She said that they were having a “celebration” at the protest site, “because we’ve held our integrity as people, as Indigenous people.
“This is something that’s become a human rights issue at this time,” she added.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline had been approved by the government last summer, and has the support of elected band councils, but the majority of hereditary chiefs say they have not consented to the project.
Some have tried to reframe the rail blockades as being solely about protesting against pipelines, but Tessica Brant said that the Tyendinaga protest is focused more on the question of Indigenous land rights.
“It’s about the land. That wasn’t their land to be able to occupy,” she said, referring to the B.C. RCMP and Coastal GasLink. “It’s not necessarily about the pipeline itself, it’s about (the fact that) they didn’t have the proper permission to enter the Wet’suwet’en territory. They didn’t converse with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.”
THE IMPACT ON RAIL SERVICE
The Wet’suwet’en supporters had remained at the Tyendinaga barricade despite a midnight deadline issued by the OPP late on Sunday to clear the area.
The demonstration, which has been in place since Feb. 6, shut down freight and passenger rail service going through a major rail corridor. Since the demonstrations began occurring, nearly 1,500 rail workers have been temporarily laid off at Via Rail and CN.
A court injunction was granted to CN Rail on Feb. 7 to remove the Tyendinaga demonstration, but was not enforced as both sides held out for a peaceful resolution. With the blockade still in place, CN Rail announced that they had been forced to shut down all rail service in Eastern Canada by Feb. 13.
Although Via Rail and CN Rail have both pointed to demonstrations across the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs as the reason for the layoffs, Terence Johnson, president of Transport Action Canada, said last week that this may not be the full truth.
Johnson said that Via Rail had cancelled service on portions of its network that were not affected by protests, and said that the amount of closures and layoffs did not “appear to have been operationally necessary.”
CN also had already announced back in November of 2019 that they would be laying off roughly 1,600 employees as economic growth slowed.
Amid the layoffs and disruptions to rail service, critics have raised concerns about the public and economic impact of the blockades, including risks of a nationwide shortage of chlorine, used to treat municipal drinking water, and propane, used to heat homes and other facilities.
Several hours before the police moved in, the Mohawks said in a statement that they were in communication with Minister Miller and police to find a peaceful resolution. The statement also reiterated that they were still waiting for confirmation that the RCMP had left Wet’suwet’en territory.
In addition to the RCMP leaving their land, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, some of whom had travelled to Tyendinaga last week to meet with their Mohawk supporters, have also previously said that for further discussions to occur and for the solidarity blockades to come down, Coastal GasLink must also halt their work while talks are ongoing.
Coastal GasLink have already been instructed by the provincial government to halt construction for 30 days after the province’s Environmental Assessment Office said last week that more information was needed from a November report the company had issued. However, the Premier’s office said in a statement that CGL could still do “pre-construction” activities.
Wickam told CTV News that they require CGL to not merely halt construction, but “to stop any activity on our territory,” so that talks can occur.
Supporters of the railway protests have decried the use of police force to clear blockades instead of addressing land defenders’ concerns.
“We have a situation where instead of restraint, instead of putting the time in to resolve the issue, they go in and make arrests,” said Indigenous rights advocate, Pam Palmater.
“This is just going to make everything worse.”
Brant told CTV News that “dialogue is 100 per cent critical, and it can be done peacefully.”
But he criticized the narrative that has formed around the protests, which has at times portrayed Indigenous land defenders as withholding resources from Canadians with no examination of their reasoning and the role that the B.C. RCMP’s actions have played.
“(We) need to stop making this such a frenzy about what the Indigenous people are doing,” he said, “and make it more of a frenzy of what the colonial powers are doing across the country when they’re invading unceded territory.”
BLOCKAGES IN QUEBEC
Meanwhile, hundreds of Wet’suwet’en supporters marched in downtown Ottawa Monday. Traffic into parts of Montreal briefly halted, with several roadways in Quebec blocked by convoys moving slowly in solidarity with those detained in Teyendinaga.
“It seems like as they are taking one blockade down, other ones are forming in different parts of the country. So this is not done by a long shot,” said Sheila North, former Grand Chief of Northern Manitoba.
The OPP said in a statement issued Monday they had been meeting and communicating regularly with various Mohawk representatives to bring about a peaceful resolution.
“Unfortunately, all avenues to successfully negotiate a peaceful resolution have been exhausted and a valid court injunction remains in effect,” the statement said.
“Enforcement of the injunction may include arrest of those who choose not to comply, however, use of force remains a last resort.”
The OPP move followed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call on Friday to end the blockades.
"The injunctions must be obeyed, and the law must be upheld," Trudeau told reporters on Friday. "Canadians who are feeling the very real impact of these blockades are running out of patience."
“I believe the reconciliation agenda and the work of addressing and redressing the concerns of the Indigenous people across this country is critically important,” said public safety minister Bill Blair.
“We remain absolutely committed to that respectful nation to nation discussion, but the rail disruptions are a separate matter. They’re having a serious effect on innocent Canadians right across the country.”