Sunday, April 22, 2007

Blockade of eastern Ont. rail line ends; protesters warn of further actions

Allison Jones, CP

Published: Saturday, April 21, 2007

A key organizer of an aboriginal blockade, which paralyzed passenger and freight rail traffic on the busy Toronto-Montreal corridor, is warning that the protest that ended early Saturday is just the beginning in a series of “escalating” actions.

“We’ve identified targets as part of this campaign, one being the railway, one being provincial highways and one being the town (of Deseronto) itself,” said Shawn Brant.

“The disruption on the CN line was a first in a series of economic disruptions, the first in a campaign.” he said. “The campaign calls for an ever escalating degree.”

The next target has already been chosen and plans to finalize the next action are in the works, said Brant, who commented Saturday morning at the site of contention in the dispute – a gravel quarry that the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte say is their land.

Though the protesters originally said they would stay at the railway blockade for 48 hours, it ended peacefully after about 30 hours at 6 a.m. Saturday, after a sleepless night of negotiations with provincial police and other officials.

Protesters said they chose to end it early over fears of a violent conclusion.

A court injunction ordered the protesters and the dilapidated school bus off the tracks with arrests warned as a consequence, but the order was never enforced by police.

No arrests have been made at this point, said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kristine Rae.
“We’re pleased that it was a peaceful resolution.”

Friday also marked the one-year anniversary of a police raid on another aboriginal occupation – in the southwestern Ontario town of Caledonia, which has been marred by violence in the past.

Aboriginal groups have warned that a lack of political will to settle that claim had protesters considering further standoffs in Ontario.

The protesters in Deseronto want the province to revoke a licence that allows gravel to be trucked away from the quarry, operated by Thurlow Aggregates.

On Saturday, the protesters offered no apologies to commuters and businesses who were inconvenienced by the blockade. Thousands of rail passengers were sent scrambling onto buses to reach their destinations while CN Rail shut down all its operations.

“I don’t think they should expect an apology,” said Brant, who suggested the blockade was prompted by government inaction on the Mohawk’s land claim.

CN Rail reported the tracks reopened Saturday morning at around 10:15 a.m.

VIA Rail said it was expecting normal operations to resume late Saturday afternoon or evening, once freight congestion had cleared.

“Even though we are very happy to announce that we are resuming our operations this afternoon, at the same time our customers that will be travelling with us are being advised that they should anticipate delays between two and three hours on their total trip time,” said spokeswoman Catherine Kaloutsky.

Jim Prentice, the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, had warned the protesters to “abandon” their blockade because it could jeopardize ongoing negotiations concerning the land tract.

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

The protesters initially set up barricades at the gravel quarry for a day in November, and again in January. A third barricade went up last month, and the group warned at the time that the demonstration might be expanded to the town of Deseronto itself.

Condominiums are planned using gravel from the quarry for an area known as the Culbertson Land Tract, which is on a section of land given to the Six Nations in 1793. The Mohawks contend they never relinquished any part of it.