The Mohawk communities of Kanesatake and Kahnawake in Quebec are obstructing roads and railways on Monday in response to a wave of arrests by Ontario Provincial Police at a railway blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
“We are not happy,” said Kenneth Deer, secretary of the Mohawk Nation in Kahnawake. “We’re very upset with what happened in Tyendinaga this morning.”
In Kahnawake, protesters slowed traffic to crawl for a brief time on Highway 132 near the Mercier Bridge before heading over to the rail blockade in the area.
Trains on a commuter rail line between Montreal and the south shore also remain at a halt as the blockade in support with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia continues.
Exo, the regional train authority, said that the service interruption is until “further notice” on the Candiac line and that shuttle buses are available for commuters. The trains have not run since Feb. 10.
The Kahnawake Peacekeepers, the local police service, was closely monitoring the barricade as more people joined the protest — which expanded throughout the day.
“We are not going to take down our barricades,” said Deer. “And we will continue to have peaceful demonstrations in support of the chiefs of Wet’suwet’en.”
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake issued a statement on Monday afternoon, expressing its “outrage and disgust” regarding the arrests in eastern Ontario.
The council pointed specifically to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “inflammatory” comments, which called for an end to blockades. The council said that contributed to the police intervention in Tyendinaga.
“What has happened over the past few days has, in fact, undone progress in building relations with Indigenous Peoples,” the council said.
Access blocked off to Kanesatake
The wave of arrests in eastern Ontario also sparked road closures in Kanesatake, a Mohawk First Nation located north of Montreal.
Protesters were blocking Highway 344 and the Mohawk community set up its own checkpoints until further notice.
John Harding spoke to the Eastern Door, a community newspaper in Kahnawake, on behalf of the Kanesatake land protectors. He said residents are closing off the territory to ensure they know who has access to the community.
“At this point of time, nobody is coming in,” he said. “Except residents.”
The decision wasn’t made lightly, but Harding said they support the Wet’suwet’en people and that the police action in Tyendinaga sparked the change.
“For us, it shows totally their bad faith,” he said.
However, restrictions eased up a bit in the early evening, according to the Eastern Door.
“Kanesatake land protectors said there will be one lane opened up at all blockades at 6 p.m. to allow traffic in and out,” a post of Facebook read.
Students sent home
The New Frontiers School Board, on Montreal’s south shore, issued a statement on Monday saying it is working with local authorities and transporters to send Kahnawake students home to their families.
“There is a meeting taking place in Kahnawake tonight, following which we will have a clearer understanding of any potential impacts within our communities,” the school board said.
Deer said there was likely a miscommunication by authorities and he expects students from Kahnawake to return to school tomorrow.
“It was probably unnecessary but they erred on the side of caution” he said.
Rob Butters, the director general at the school board, said students at Châteauguay schools were sent home at the parents’ request. Some parents also showed up to pick up their children.
“The community wants to have all of their children back in the community,” he said.
Saint-Lambert blockade fell
The Mont-Saint-Hilaire train line resumed service early Monday morning after demonstrators dismantled their blockade in Saint-Lambert, south of Montreal, late last week.
The barricade came down after the group was served with an injunction from Canadian National Railway and Trudeau called for an end to blockades across Canada amid stalled attempts at negotiation.
The nationwide protests began in early February when the hereditary chiefs started protesting the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory. However, elected band councils for that and 20 other First Nation communities along the route support the project.
Tensions quickly escalated after the RCMP enforced a court injunction to give workers unobstructed access to a worksite for the pipeline and arrested activists blocking the area.
The dispute has sparked protests in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other locations in B.C. for weeks.
The blockades have forced train stoppages for Via Rail, CN Rail and commuter trains in Montreal. While some across Canada remain obstructed, service has resumed on others.
— With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore, Amanda Connolly and the Canadian Press