April 9, 2013 8:03 pm

Vic Toews was asked to stop Sarnia CN blockade: emails


A national trade group for propane asked Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to step in and dismantle a CN rail blockade set up by First Nations protesters in Sarnia, Ont. last winter during the Idle No More movement, according to correspondence obtained by Global News.

The Canadian Propane Association wrote a letter to Toews “urging the federal government to take the necessary steps to remove the CN rail blockage in Sarnia, Ontario in an orderly and safe manner,” according to an email.

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The email from Denis Guitor, a senior operations officer at the emergency-response Government Operations Centre, was sent to bureaucrats at Aboriginal Affairs on Dec. 28, 2012, four days before an Ontario judge ordered the nearly two-week blockade to come down.

CN Rail also wanted the federal government to try to get the group of protesters to leave, the emails show, and expressed frustration that police were not enforcing two court injunctions to end the blockade.

“CN is extremely frustrated with the police who don’t seem to be doing anything to negotiate with the first nations group,” said an email from bureaucrat Tara Shannon on Dec. 23, 2012.

While CN requested a member of the department’s senior management try to get the group to leave, another bureaucrat, Joanne Wilkinson, wrote on Dec. 22 that “given that CN has apparently obtained an injunction, I do not believe that it would be a departmental role to intervene in the manner requested.”

Also on that day, according to another email contained in more than 600 pages released under Access to Information, CN expressed concern about the economic impact of the protests.

“These tracks carry supplies to refineries and eventually fuel to Detroit for emergency vehicles. They are also concerned with workers losing work and pay, especially during the holidays,” said the email from Kendra Kahnapace.

The Sarnia blockade ended on Jan. 2, 2013, after lawyers for CN Rail launched court action against Ron Plain, a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, alleging that he was in contempt of an injunction to disband the protests on the railway tracks.

The court injunctions were issued on Dec. 21 and 27 and granted police the power to end the blockade at their discretion.

The group alleged the railway tracks were not laid down legitimately, and the blockade was one of several actions taken across the country as part of the Idle No More movement.

It was set up in support of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who went on a 44-day hunger strike – later defined as a liquids-only diet – in Ottawa to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston.

The documents released also show the department’s detailed monitoring of news articles, Facebook posts and Tweets surrounding Spence’s protest and Idle No More.

– With files from the Canadian Press

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