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  • Mohawk protesters in Ontario say they won't back down in blockade

    Mohawk protesters in Ontario say they won't back down in blockade
    at 22:27 on June 28, 2007, EDT.
    By SUE BAILEY

    Discover Shaw’s High Speed Internet, Shaw Mobile, Cable Digital HDTV & Home Phone Bundles. And learn how we’re the leader in gig speed Internet.


    DESERONTO, Ont. (CP) - Mohawk protesters, who say they are armed and won't back down, have begun threatened blockades in eastern Ontario.

    About 40 Mohawks parked an old schoolbus across secondary Highway 2 west of Deseronto just before 9 p.m. ET, forcing a steady stream of traffic and heavy trucks to turn around. The protesters planned to expand their blockade to the nearby CN Rail main line and to heavily travelled Highway 401, ignoring widespread calls that an aboriginal day of action be peaceful.

    One angry motorist yelled at some of the younger protesters and a brief exchange of swearing ensued.

    Others were more understanding.

    A truck driver named Mike was trying to get home to Belleville.

    "I don't mind," he said of the blockade. "I just have to get turned around."

    A few of the protesters helped guide the big rigs on to a driveway to make the awkward manoeuvre.

    Mohawks wearing bandanas over their faces sparked up a bonfire, formed a drumming circle and sang.

    Protest leader Shawn Brant described the Highway 2 blockade as a "soft target" before the Mohawks move on to either the CN rail line, or Highway 401 - or both.

    In anticipation of the blockade, Via Rail suspended Friday's passenger train service on heavily travelled Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto corridor, on the first day of one of the busiest weekends of the summer.

    Demonstrators are well organized and equipped with a trailer loaded with wooden pallets, large pieces of tree trunk and several trucks.

    They are also stocked up with water, food and ice for what Brant says will be an "action of economic disruption" lasting more than 24 hours until midnight Friday.

    Men, women and children in army-style fatigues, their hair braided back or shaved in traditional Mohawk style, began arriving at a makeshift camp outside Deseronto just after 5 p.m.

    There were reports that dozens of provincial police cruisers had amassed in the nearby city of Napanee.

    Brant, a 43-year-old militant Mohawk, has done jail time for trashing the offices of politicians. He stands out as the lone voice calling for militancy on what others had hoped would be a day devoted to public education about native issues.

    Brant said he intended to lead blockades of one or both of the main traffic and rail corridors between Toronto and Montreal starting at midnight Thursday night, or before.

    Brant wouldn't disclose the actual sites, but confirmed that he and others were prepared to "meet force with force" if police got in their way.

    "We've made no secret that we have guns within this camp," he told The Canadian Press in an interview.

    "It's our intent to go out and ensure a safe day. Unfortunately, previous incidents have shown that aggressive tactics by the police need to be met with equal resistance by the people that they're bringing those against."

    Brant referred to the 1995 death of Dudley George when Ontario Provincial Police tried to force native demonstrators from Ipperwash provincial park.

    "Most certainly, they shouldn't challenge us or question our resolve."

    Brant says the time to educate Canadians through peaceful rallies has passed.

    "We want government to know, and the rest of this country, that we're prepared to make commitments and sacrifices to ensure a safe, healthy environment in which our children can live - and a future that they can look forward to. Maybe then, they'll stop committing suicide."

    Ontario Police Chief Julian Fantino singled out Brant at a news conference in Toronto on Thursday, saying he would be held accountable for his actions.

    "He is, I think a one -off and we will have to deal with that depending on what Mr. Brant does," Fantino said.

    "We're prepared to discuss things with Mr. Brant, we have done that before. But at the end of the day, there is accountability for one's actions as well and he will be held accountable."

    In the Maritimes, members of the Mi'kmaq Nation threatened a blockade of the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick boundary on Highway 104.

    "It is the sovereign right of the independent Mi'kmaq Nation to disrupt or prevent any transportation through the territory," organizers said in a statement.

    Fantino said anarchists distract from the legitimacy of native land claims.

    "We can't allow the hijacking of that legitimate cause by those who are intent on creating anarchy or who are intent of creating lawlessness in our country," he said.

    The threats of blockades were in stark contrast to calls from aboriginal chiefs who called for peaceful protests and a day of reflection.

    "We know there is frustration; we feel it, " Phil Fontaine, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told a news conference in Ottawa.

    "Tomorrow, however, we intend to undertake the educational process, we will be asking all Canadians to learn about our people."

    Canada's premiers and territorial leaders also issued a rare joint statement Thursday, acknowledging that aboriginals are understandably disappointed and frustrated with the past, but urged protesters to keep Friday's campaign "peaceful and law-abiding."

    The southern Ontario town of Caledonia was also on high alert as a 16-month occupation of a former housing development site continued.

    Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he had spoken to the province's aboriginal leaders, and everyone had agreed the day should go ahead "without incident."

    Friday is about grievances aboriginal communities have with the federal government, not the province, he said.

    "I remain hopeful that this national day of action will proceed in a peaceful and respectful way," McGuinty said, adding it will be up to provincial police to deal with any blockades or illegal activity.

    Marie Trainer, mayor of Haldimand County, which includes the town of Caledonia, said residents had been watching apprehensively over the last few days as cars with Quebec and American licence plates drove onto the occupied site.

    Trainer said everyone was hoping the day would go by without any of the violent clashes the occupation has sparked in the past.

    "I'm sure there will be a couple of spots that are hot, but I'm hoping ours isn't," Trainer said.

    Brant and his Mohawks amassed at a quarry about two kilometres south of Highway 401 that Brant occupied last March.

    Brant said he would remain there until the Ontario government stops allowing a private company to truck away the land the Mohawks have claimed.

    Negotiations with the federal government have dragged over the last four years, Brant says.

    Dale Welsh of Deseronto drives by the occupied quarry, with Mohawk flags snapping in the breeze, a few times a week.

    "If everybody would just get together and settle things, we wouldn't have a problem," he said.

    People in town are worried about property values and bad headlines, said Welsh, 60.

    Then again, he can see the Mohawk point of view.

    "I'd be mad if somebody came in and infringed on my land."

    -With files from Noor Javed in Toronto

    ©The Canadian Press, 2007

    Opinions expressed on this page are those of the reporting journalists. Shaw Cable does not necessarily share those opinions.

    Submit Feedback to The Canadian Press.

  • #2
    Aboriginal protester to turn himself in to police after midnight
    at 10:41 on June 29, 2007, EDT.
    By SUE BAILEY

    Discover Shaw’s High Speed Internet, Shaw Mobile, Cable Digital HDTV & Home Phone Bundles. And learn how we’re the leader in gig speed Internet.


    DESERONTO, Ont. (CP) - An aboriginal protest in eastern Ontario that paralyzed the country's busiest highway ended Friday morning and traffic was allowed to start flowing again after a deal was reached between aboriginal and provincial police.

    Militant Mohawk protester Shawn Brant had set up three blockades near the town of Deseronto - on Highway 401, Highway 2 and the CN rail line (TSX:CNR) - as part of a national day of action that was otherwise peaceful.

    Brant said he did not want to aggravate long-weekend travellers more than necessary by keeping the 401 closed. It had been shut down by police at midnight Thursday night after Brant said his group was armed with firearms and ready to use them in any confrontation with police.

    Brant said Friday morning his co-operation with police shouldn't be seen as a retreat by protesters fed up with unsettled land claims and poverty on their reserves.

    "We've been able to demonstrate the courage, commitment and resolve of our community members," said Brant. "We don't want people to see this a stepping back, we don't feel that it is."

    Brant said he was asked by Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino to take down all three barricades, to which he said he replied, "absolutely not."

    The two other barricades would be maintained until midnight, the official end of the national day of protest, Brant added. Ontario provincial police Supt. Angie Howe said the force was "very happy at this move forward through negotiations."

    "As the morning continues, we'll have further negotiations and we're very, very hopeful that we'll be able to have Highway 2 and the railway open," Howe said.

    Via Rail announced Thursday it would halt service for thousands of travellers between Montreal to Toronto and Ottawa to Toronto and offer a full refund to any ticket holders. Officials said service was expected to resume Saturday.

    The rail barricade prompted CN to cancel all traffic Friday morning on the busy line between Toronto and Montreal, affecting almost 50 passenger or freight trains. It is the second time in three months the railway's operations were shut down by a blockade. In April, CN obtained an injunction to end a 30-hour protest, although police did not enforce the court order, frustrating railway operators.

    "First Nations protesters are again blocking CN's rail corridor and the OPP continues to refuse to intervene," said a statement issued by the railway early Friday.

    Fantino gave a public warning Thursday that Brant would be held accountable for his actions. He stood out as the lone voice advocating militancy for the day of protest.

    Provincial police issued an arrest warrant for Brant on a charge of mischief, although they made no move to remove the blockades or arrest him.

    Brant said Friday he would turn himself in to police after midnight.

    He called the demonstration that closed Highway 401 for 11 hours and disrupted rail service a "good test run."

    "This is the first time ever we've shut down the 401, and I don't believe it's going to be the last," Brant said. "It was certainly a good test run for us."

    Two secondary roads - County Road 38 west of Bala and County Road 45 south of Peterborough - remained blocked, although Howe said negotiations were also underway to re-open those roads.

    Brant, a 43-year-old militant Mohawk, is out on bail on previous charges of mischief, disobeying a court order and breach of recognizance in connection with the blockade of the CN rail line April 20.

    He has served jail time for trashing the offices of politicians.

    Brant said Fantino called him three times between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., urging an end to the blockade, although he never felt police were ready to move in.

    There was a tense moment early Friday morning as Brant was meeting with fellow Mohawks along the deserted highway.

    A white van believed to have been driven by a provincial police officer sped through the area without slowing and this appeared to anger Brant and his group.

    Assembly of First Nations chief Phil Fontaine says blockades were never intended to be part of the day of protest.

    "Our position has been very, very clear," he told a Canadian TV station on Friday. "We've never advocated blockades. We've made it very clear that this is to be peaceful. We want to do everything possible to reach out to Canadians. We are not interested in major disruption. We don't want to impede the Canadian economy."

    Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse said Brant's actions were "not reflective of the collective resolve of the First Nations in Ontario."

    "There is no doubt that First Nations have longstanding legitimate grievances that must be addressed now and not 10, 20 or 30 years down the road," Toulouse said in a release.

    "The First Nation leadership in Ontario appeals for calm, restraint and good judgment on the part of all parties on this national day of action."

    Demonstrators also blocked roads in and out of a reserve in Alderville, Northumberland County, halfway between Toronto and Kingston.

    A county road near the popular Ontario Muskoka town of Bala was also blocked by demonstrators.

    Earlier, the Mohawk protesters near Deseronto parked an old school bus across Highway 2, forcing a steady stream of traffic and heavy trucks to turn around. Brant warned his group was armed with firearms and was ready to use them.

    "We've made no secret that we have guns within this camp," Brant told The Canadian Press in an interview.

    "It's our intent to go out and ensure a safe day. Unfortunately, previous incidents have shown that aggressive tactics by the police need to be met with equal resistance by the people that they're bringing those against."

    Later, the protesters closed the CN Rail main line, using jumper cables to activate crossing barriers before moving another old school bus onto the tracks.

    In the Maritimes, members of the Mi'kmaq Nation threatened a blockade of the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick boundary on Highway 104, but a disruption never materialized.

    ©The Canadian Press, 2007

    Opinions expressed on this page are those of the reporting journalists. Shaw Cable does not necessarily share those opinions.

    Submit Feedback to The Canadian Press.









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