Category Archives: Protests and Resistance

Activism, Civil Disobedience and Direct Action

As Quebec rail blockades come down, supporters demand Indigenous rights be respected

After dismantling the rail blockade, Mohawks from Kahnawake built a new barricade in a green space near Montreal’s Mercier Bridge on Thursday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Encampments blocking lines through Kahnawake, Listiguj had been in place since early February

The remaining blockades halting rail traffic in Quebec were taken down Thursday, putting an end to three weeks of protest in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia.

Supporters in Kahnawake, a Mohawk territory on Montreal’s South Shore, and in Listiguj, where Mi’kmaq activists had blocked a rail line that connects the Gaspé Peninsula with New Brunswick, dismantled their encampments Thursday afternoon.

But they stressed their fight isn’t over.

In Kahnawake, people marched through the streets, temporarily blocking traffic, with a banner that read: “Protect our future. No more pipelines.”

Roxann Whitebean, a filmmaker who lives in Kahnawake, said the decision to take down the blockade on a CP Rail line should be seen as a message of “good faith to all of Canada.”

“Depending on how Canada moves forward, we are ready to react and we will ensure that our rights and lands will no longer be violated. We will not back down until these standards are met,” she said.

Roxann Whitebean, a Mohawk writer and filmmaker, addressed reporters in the middle of the highway. She said Indigenous rights must be respected.

The encampment was relocated to a green space near the Mercier Bridge, a heavily trafficked connection between Montreal and the city’s South Shore.

“We want the fire to be visible for every commuter that crosses the Mercier Bridge, to show that we are here to stay for as long as the Wet’suwet’en need us,” said Whitebean.

“We will be closely monitoring the situation in Wet’suwet’en as well other Indigenous communities.”

The blockade in Listuguj, Que., was taken down soon after. Raquel Barnaby, a spokesperson for Mi’kmaq activists, said their goals had been met.

“Our goals were for the RCMP to back away from the Wet and for hereditary chiefs to be at the table,” she said. “We just want to end it on a positive note.”

Supporters in Listiguj took down their encampment Thursday. (Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada)

Other blockades across Canada have already come down.

Over the weekend, Wet’suwet’en chiefs and representatives of the federal and B.C. governments announced they had reached a draft agreement concerning some of the issues involved in an ongoing dispute over a pipeline that would run through traditional land.

Quebec Premier François Legault’s government had expressed growing impatience with the Kahnawake blockade, arguing it was hurting the province’s economy.

Injunctions were obtained against both barricades, but never enforced.

Legault told reporters last week Quebec provincial police hadn’t moved in because there are AK-47s in Kahnawake. The comment was decried as “reckless” by leaders in the Mohawk community.

After the blockades came down, the premier said on Twitter the “negative effects that these blockades had, particularly on public transport users & on the economy, are deplorable. Solutions must be found so that it does not happen again.”

Highway 132 near the Mercier Bridge was briefly blocked after the barricade in Kahnawake was dismantled. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

In a statement on its website, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake said Thursday the blockade was a “sincere and peaceful expression of support” for Wet’suwet’en chiefs.

“Even in 2020 it seems that it takes a crisis for governments to truly engage,” said Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton.

“We have been advocating for meaningful dialogue in the interest of peace and safety for all people.”

Supporters of the blockade in Kahnawake say they want Indigenous rights to be respected. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

By: Benjamin Shingler · CBC News · Posted: Mar 05, 2020

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Indigenous youth arrested for refusing to leave B.C. legislature

Victoria police say five Indigenous youth were arrested Wednesday night for refusing to leave the B.C. legislature: (CTV News)

VICTORIA — An intense scene played out on the lawns of the B.C. legislature late Wednesday night as police removed five Indigenous demonstrators from inside the government building.

Victoria Police confirm five Indigenous youth demonstrators were arrested for mischief after they refused to leave a planned meeting with Indigenous relations minister Scott Fraser.

The Indigenous youth, who have been occupying B.C.’s legislature for weeks, were invited in for a meeting with Fraser when they allegedly demanded he condemn the Costal GasLink pipeline project that crosses through the Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory in northern B.C.

When demands were not met, the demonstrators refused to leave.

“Our lives are more valuable than an economic bottom line which is why we are occupying this office currently,” said Indigenous youth leader Ta’kaiya Blaney on a live stream she posted to social media Wednesday night.

“We had a good conversation, but we know these meetings cannot set the tone for a history, and ongoing history, of colonization in this country.”

Victoria police say five Indigenous youth were arrested Wednesday night for refusing to leave the B.C. legislature: (CTV News)

Victoria Police say they arrested five demonstrators at around 9 P.M. Wednesday. Police say that because Wet’suwet’en supporters crowded outside of the legislature, it took hours to get everyone out of the building.

“The protesters actively obstructed officers,” said Bowen Osoko, VicPD communications office.

“With the large crowd, it took several hours for our officers to be able safely transport the protesters to VicPD Headquarters,” he said. “Officers who were responding to the scene were surrounded by over 100 protesters and were unable to respond to emergency calls for service.”

Five Indigenous youth were arrested by Victoria police for refusing to leave the B.C. legislature: (CTV News)

The activists were transported to cells and released on conditions not to return to the legislature grounds.

A mischief investigation continues. According to police, no one was injured.

By Scott Cunningham, CTV News, published on March 5, 2020

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Blockades and bonfires — Warriors stand with Wet’suwet’en chiefs

Before Trudeau called for an end to national protests, Winnipeg’s Urban Warrior Alliance blockaded Highway 75 in support of community engaged in years-long dispute

Pipeline actions ramp up

Several people were arrested Monday when Ontario Provincial Police broke up a railway blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in the latest escalation of a conflict that began more than a year ago in British Columbia.

Since January 2019, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and community members have been resisting the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline is part of a $6.6 billion project to bring natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to the coast and has been approved by the provincial and federal governments. Five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils are also in support.

But the hereditary chiefs have consistently opposed the construction and set up blockades to stop work from going forward in the winter of 2019. The project has also been panned by B.C.’s human rights commission and the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination.

A report published by the Guardian late last year said authorities were prepared to use lethal force against the land defenders.

After the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) moved to act on an injunction requiring the Wet’suwet’en to stand down earlier this year, solidarity demonstrations and blockades popped up around the country, including the Tyendinaga action that began over two weeks ago. In Manitoba, demonstrators have shut down Portage Avenue several times — including twice in front of the Manitoba RCMP headquarters and a rush hour rally that saw some 400 people shut down the Portage and Main intersection.

A blockade of the CN and Via Rail tracks near Headingly, Man., lasted less than 24 hours before a CN injunction was quickly approved by the courts. On Feb. 17, members of the Urban Warrior Alliance blockaded Highway 75 for several hours. Following Monday’s arrests, another series of solidarity actions sprang up, including blockades of commuter rail lines in Ontario and the second rally outside Manitoba’s Mountie headquarters. 

Manitoban columnist Cam Cannon attended the Feb. 17 highway blockade and filed the following report.

The air is rich with the smoke of a nearby bonfire.

Indigenous warriors and land defenders, clad in camouflage, are holding an emergency meeting in a large black pickup truck parked on the side of Highway 75, where a blockade of both the CN railway and the southbound lanes of the highway has been set up.

All traffic is being allowed through at the moment — everybody around the fire is in disbelief at what just happened.

Moments earlier, as Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) liaison officers dressed in plain clothes visited the blockade — informing the land defenders that the officers were there not only to protect the public, but to protect the land defenders as well — a large tractor trailer pushed through the blockade, swerving through at speed as land defenders scrambled to stop the driver.

The truck sped away, followed shortly after by an RCMP vehicle.

A land defender’s arm was “jarred” during the incident, according to Harrison Powder, a land defender with the Urban Warrior Alliance — one of Winnipeg’s warrior societies, an organization of Indigenous militants.

Land defenders completely stop all traffic in retaliation — including passenger vehicles, which earlier in the day had been allowed through while only commercial trucks were being held up.

They hold the line for about 10 more minutes before holding an emergency meeting away from their allies and the media.

The truck breaking through the blockade was only one of three separate incidents of what Black Turtle, a warrior with the Urban Warrior Alliance, described as “violence” against the land defenders during the day, including an individual who exited his vehicle to confront blockaders.

“That’s never happened before,” she said, comparing the incident to previous demonstrations.

“It’s like the temperament in some of the people has gotten a lot worse than it used to be. The anger level is higher, I guess the stakes are higher.”

“In eight years of protesting — like real heavy protesting as a land defender, doing lots of other kinds of protests, blocking highways, rail lines — this has maybe happened maybe once and today we’ve had three incidents of violence on this highway,” she said.

Overall, the attitude toward the blockade from drivers can be described as tense. People could be heard yelling obscenities from their cars with some regularity, though a few dropped off snacks as they passed through.

The blockade — established as part of a wave of ongoing peaceful protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en and Mohawk nations — was established at noon.

The RCMP were on the scene minutes later and maintained a presence for the rest of the day. Within a few hours, a court injunction was served to land defenders by RCMP officers — which they promptly threw to the wind.

“I’m kind of surprised how fast it was, it seems a little not normal,” said Powder, noting it has taken up to eight hours to be served with an injunction at previous protests.

“They’ve been getting these injunctions now in a matter of three, four hours,” he said.

“Once a blockade is going up across Canada — because it happened in Toronto, too — they had a blockade and were served within four, five hours.”

The blockade came down after 5 p.m. Amidst rising tensions over the blockades that have shuttered parts of the Canadian economy, there has been increased pressure from both the police and civilians to take down the blockades.

Although some injunctions had gone unenforced for weeks before this weekend, a blockade just south of Montreal, Que., was dismantled on Feb. 21 upon the arrival of police in riot gear.

At a press conference the same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that RCMP were scaling back from Wet’suwet’en and called for all the blockades across the country, now in their third week, to come down and for the rule of law to be upheld.

A few days prior, on Feb. 19, counter-protesters — among them, members of far-right groups and movements including Yellow Vests Canada, United We Roll and Wexit, according to Yellow Vests Canada Exposed, a group that monitors the far right in Canada — dismantled a blockade outside of Edmonton, Alta.

The vigilante action was met with support on Twitter in a now-deleted tweet from Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Peter MacKay.

With rising antagonism from both the Canadian government and from Canadians themselves, Black Turtle — who said she attended the blockade out of love and a want to see reconciliation between the country and the Indigenous populations — questioned how far away that may still be.

“I think that we’re the furthest from reconciliation at this point in time than we’ve been in for a very long time,” she said.

“I think it was starting to come into that direction until this last situation occurred. I’d say that reconciliation is dead at this point.”

“It is completely dead.”

This article was first published in The Manitoban on February 25, 2020. 

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Legal experts say injunctions not effective in Indigenous-led land disputes

A blockade in Kahnawake, south of Montreal, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs attempting to halt construction of a natural gas pipeline on their traditional territories has been in place in since Feb. 10, 2020. (Photo source: Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

  • The Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria says injunctions become more complicated when title and governance issues are at stake, as in the Wet’suwet’en case.

As demonstrations continue across Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing a pipeline through their territory, legal experts suggest it’s time to reconsider how injunctions are employed when responding to Indigenous-led protests.

The protests began earlier this month when the RCMP moved into Wet’suwet’en territory to enforce a court injunction against opponents of Coastal GasLink’s natural gas pipeline development in northern British Columbia. A group of hereditary chiefs rejected the court’s decision on the company’s application, saying it contradicted Wet’suwet’en law.

As solidarity protests popped up on railways and roads across the country, other companies sought their own injunctions to remove the blockades, arguing the demonstrations were causing harm to business and to the Canadian economy.

St. John’s-based lawyer Mark Gruchy, who represents clients charged with breaching an injunction while protesting at the Muskrat Falls hydro site in Labrador in 2016, said Indigenous resistance to resource development is too complex an issue to be addressed through injunctions in their current form.

“It’s frustrating for me as a lawyer to watch, but I think there’s a relatively straightforward way to really take the edge off and to change the future,” Gruchy said from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where five of his clients had just been cleared of criminal charges related to the Muskrat Falls protest. Several other people still face trials or sentencing after being charged for the same incident.

Gruchy said the concerns raised in his clients’ case will continue to surface across Canada unless politicians work to “modify the tool” being used to resolve such resource and land disputes.

As an example, he proposed that in cases related to an Indigenous-led protest, injunctions could be structured to allow for mediated consultation instead of a heavy-handed order for the protest to stop.

“This issue, really, is a very sharp collision of a major political, social issue with the legal system, and I think that politicians should do their best to … blunt the impact of that,” he said. The current situation is “not good for … the long term health of our legal system,” he added.

John Borrows, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria, said there is a precedent of a legislative solution being employed when injunctions were causing disruption.

In the mid-20th century, the widespread use of injunctions by employers against striking workers was leading to increasingly volatile disputes in British Columbia. The provincial government eventually adjusted labour legislation to outline required negotiation practices in disputes.

“It seems to have created some safety valves or more productive ways of talking through what the dispute is, and so I always wonder whether or not what we learned in other contexts could be applied in this context,” Borrows said.

He said injunctions preserve the status quo, because aboriginal title issues do not need to be considered. That causes complications when complex title and governance issues are at stake, as in the Wet’suwet’en case.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church acknowledged the difficulty of addressing underlying Indigenous law issues in her decision on Coastal GasLink’s injunction application, writing “this is not the venue for that analysis, and those are issues that must be determined at trial.”

Others have said the legal tests applied when considering an injunction request favour corporations, because financial losses are more easily demonstrated than environmental or cultural ones.

A study of over 100 injunctions published last year by the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led think tank based at Ryerson University, found 76 per cent of injunctions filed by corporations against First Nations were granted, compared with 19 per cent of injunctions filed by First Nations against corporations.

Irina Ceric, a lawyer and criminology instructor at British Columbia’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University who worked on the study, said the use of injunctions to dispel protests has been on the rise in Canada. But the last three weeks have been “off the charts,” she said, with 12 granted since protests began — more than half of them to the CP and CN railways.

She said the recently granted injunctions raise questions, because in some cases the evidence used in the applications has not been made public, and in other cases it’s unclear why mischief laws would not have sufficed.

“I don’t know if this is the intent, but what it does is that it gives the corporations that are impacted by these blockades the power to call the shots in terms of protest policing, which I think is really problematic,” she said.

Ceric said that rather than waiting for the provinces to introduce legislation, it may take a Supreme Court of Canada challenge to change how injunctions are applied in response to Indigenous protests.

Shiri Pasternak, a criminology professor at Ryerson University and research director of the Yellowhead Institute, said legislators appear to be responding to recent events with more extreme measures rather than reconsidering how injunctions are used.

She pointed to a law introduced in Alberta this week that would heavily fine people who block roads and rail lines and said the recent proliferation of injunctions speaks to their function as a last resort for companies when negotiations with Indigenous leaders break down.

“It’s just proving how instrumental this tool is for removing people from their land,” she said.

The Canadian Press, published March 1, 2020.

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Kahnawake Mohawk offer to temporarily step in for RCMP in Wet’suwet’en territory

A peacekeeper speaks to people at the protest site in Kahnawake on Wednesday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Grand chief says replacing RCMP could lead to ‘immediate de-escalation of the current crisis’

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has proposed that its peacekeepers head up a temporary Indigenous police force to patrol traditional Wet’suwet’en territory instead of the RCMP.

“We are bringing forth a possible solution to address one of the most problematic issues in the Wet’suwet’en situation,” Grand Chief Joe Norton said in a news release.

The offer comes as the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are set to meet for a second day Friday with B.C. and federal government officials in northwestern B.C., as they try to break an impasse in a pipeline dispute that has sparked weeks of protests across the country.

Mounties made the decision to end patrols along a critical roadway in Wet’suwet’en territory while negotiations unfold — a request made by the hereditary chiefs.

“The key demand is for the RCMP to leave, but there is a need for policing services to offer assistance in everyday matters,” Norton said in the release. “We feel this can lead to an immediate de-escalation of the current crisis.”

The force would be led by Kahnawake Peacekeepers and include members of other Indigenous police services, Norton told CBC News Friday.

The idea would have to be approved by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs currently at the negotiating table, the federal and British Columbia governments and the RCMP, Norton said.

Norton said he spoke about the idea on Thursday with federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller and Justice Minister David Lametti.

“There seems to be acknowledgement that might be a very good answer at this point in time,” Norton said.

The Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline would run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, B.C., through traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en. (Source: Office of the Wet’suwet’en) (CBC News)

“We did a similar thing in Kanesetake in 2004 when requested to come and help to ease a very tense situation there,” he said. “We stayed for a while and helped calm things down, restore peace.”

The head of the Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers, Dwayne Zacharie — who is also president of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association — is contacting other Indigenous police chiefs in order to be ready to send an “amalgamation of officers,” said Const. Kyle Zachary, a spokesperson for the Kahnawake force.

Zachary said it’s too early to say how many officers would be needed and where they would come from.

Norton said it wasn’t impossible that an Indigenous force could work with the RCMP. He said that funding for the project, if it happened, would be up to the Canadian and B.C. governments.

“They created the circumstances, so they would have to pay for it,” he said.

Kahnawake peacekeepers are recognized as federal police officers who enforce the Criminal Code of Canada, Zachary said. Officers in the force complete the six-month RCMP training program in Regina.

Zachary wouldn’t speculate on whether an Indigenous peacekeeping unit would enforce a court injunction in Wet’suwet’en, saying the proposal has not been accepted and the specific objectives and composition of the unit haven’t been defined.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters erected a camp in the territory in northern British Columbia to prevent the construction of a natural gas pipeline there.

Solidarity protests and blockades erupted across the province after the RCMP enforced a British Columbia Supreme Court injunction by raiding the camp earlier this month

Work on the pipeline has been paused for two days as the hereditary chiefs meet with government officials.

A blockade in Kahnawake is currently halting operations on a Canadian Pacific Railway line south of Montreal. The Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers have said they have no intention of enforcing an injunction to dismantle that blockade.

With files from CBC’s Alison Northcott

CBC News · Posted: Feb 28, 2020

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