Aboriginal protester vow to maintain rail blockade in eastern Ontario

Allison Jones
Canadian Press

Bay of Quinte Mohawks block the train tracks just north of Deseronto, Ont. on Friday. (CP/Jonathan Hayward)

Bay of Quinte Mohawks block the train tracks just north of Deseronto, Ont. on Friday. (CP/Jonathan Hayward)

DESERONTO, Ont. (CP) - Aboriginal protesters vowed Friday to maintain their planned 48-hour blockade of eastern Ontario's main rail corridor despite a court injunction ordering them off the railway crossing.

The tense situation prompted Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to urge the federal government to intervene at the "earliest possible opportunity" to help resolve the issues behind the blockade.

The long-simmering land dispute near Deseronto, Ont., erupted around midnight Thursday as members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte moved to occupy the rail line, shutting down freight and passenger train service from Toronto eastward to Ottawa and Montreal.

Protest organizer Shawn Brant accepted a copy of the
injunction and shook the hand of the police officer who read the court order to the protesters at the site, some 30 kilometres west of Kingston. While Brant said they'll leave peacefully after 48 hours, he added they won't leave before then without a fight.

"There comes a point in people's lives when you have to stand and you have to fight, and there are bigger things for us to consider," he said.

"If (police) want a disaster on the Deseronto boundary road, then they should consider enforcing (the court order)."

The group is protesting a developer's plan to build condominiums using material from a quarry on land they claim is theirs.

Several protesters gathered around a makeshift campfire on the roadway as aboriginal flags flapped in the wind. A school bus was parked over the rail line while provincial police monitored the situation from a distance.

Fire crews arrived at the scene mid-afternoon after plumes of smoke could be seen rising out of a wooded area down the rail line.

CN Rail (TSX:CNR) spokesman Mark Hallman said the court injunction requires the protesters to "dismantle the blockade forthwith."

"CN hopes that the issue can be addressed immediately and that we can resume freight operations as soon as possible."

Via Rail brought in chartered buses to replace passenger rail service between Toronto and Ottawa and Toronto and Montreal.

McGuinty appealed to the federal government for help.

"The best thing that the federal government could do to protect the interest of all Ontario citizens is to address this outstanding issue in a way that takes the protest action off the table, sets up a good negotiating table, and resolves this at the earliest possible opportunity," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said while he didn't "know all that much" about the blockade, he said he was "obviously hoping that that can be cleared away, and that it can be dealt with fairly quickly."

The protesters initially set up day-long barricades at the gravel quarry operated by Thurlow Aggregates outside Deseronto in November and again in January.

A third protest barricade went up last month, and the natives warned then they might expand the demonstration to the town of Deseronto itself.

But the dispute over the building project erupted Friday as they began their blockade of a railway crossing.

The condominiums are planned for an area knows as the Culbertson Land Tract.

The tract is on a parcel of land granted to the Six Nations in 1793 and the Mohawks claim they never surrendered any part of it.

The federal government has appointed a land-claims negotiator to try to resolve the long-running dispute, but Brant has said the talks were moving too slowly.

"This is one of the targets on the list for disruption for the fact the quarry license still hasn't been revoked," Brant said.

"We shut (the rail lines) down as part of the ongoing rotational economic disruption campaign we promised."

Don Maracle, chief of the area Tyendinaga Mohawks, said he sympathized with Brant's group but said the Mohawk council did not sanction the quarry blockade.

© The Canadian Press 2007

Best grassroots coverage/background& analysis of this struggle:


No comments: