Road blockades that are a headache for police, create anxiety and threaten people’s safety are no way to resolve long-standing aboriginal land disputes, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday as a Mohawk barricade was dismantled in eastern Ontario. (Edit: The same McGuinty who claimed in 2006 he wasn’t going to negotiate with the DCE terrorists and then resumed negotiations within 48 hours)
The blockade – erected Sunday night near Belleville to protest a land dispute with a Kingston-based developer – came down after yesterday’s arrival of about 200 Ontario Provincial Police officers on the main road through Deseronto.
“The OPP will continue to uphold the right to lawful, peaceful protest; however we do not condone illegal activity and will not tolerate conduct intended to disrupt public peace and threaten public safety,” Commissioner Julian Fantino said in a statement. (Edit: This from the same Fantino who has spent over half a million dollars to suppress the right to lawful, peaceful protest by non Native people and has ordered his officers to ignore illegal activity by Natives)
The blockade was just one of several protests and smaller traffic disruptions in the area over the past two days, said Sgt. Kristine Rae, adding that police are investigating to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
Protesters are still occupying the disputed land development and a nearby quarry they have occupied since last March.
Although critics say the Liberals have encouraged such protests across the province by allowing the Six Nations occupation of a Caledonia housing development to continue for more than two years, McGuinty called for the barricades to come down less than two hours before police arrived on the scene.
“This has now become an issue of real concern to our police,” he said following a morning event in Toronto. “There are safety issues and we’re always concerned about what might happen when it comes to that. People get anxious.”
About 75 Mohawk protesters shut down the road to protest a land dispute with Nibourg Developments, which said it would begin to clear brush Monday on property it owns in the town southwest of Napanee.
The disputed land is part of a claim accepted by the federal government for negotiation in 2003.
“I want every developer … that plans to develop in Deseronto to stay the hell out or we’re going to go through this again and again and again and again until it’s done,” protester Dan Doreen told a local radio station.
“It’s not a fight with the OPP. … We’re sick and tired of having to come down to Deseronto every week and protect our land. We’re sick of it.”
Developers Theo and Emile Nibourg issued a statement blaming the provincial and federal governments for the unrest.
“It is totally unacceptable that through their inactions the government has allowed the close relationship between the native and non-native members of the community [to] become divided,” the statement said.
The Nibourgs said they will stop development on the land known as the Culbertson Tract during land claim negotiations, which they hope will continue in “a timely manner.”
McGuinty said there are better ways to resolve outstanding land disputes.
“We have worked really hard as a government to pursue a new direction when it comes to our relationship with our aboriginal communities,” McGuinty said.
“We understand the best way to resolve outstanding issues is at the table, not by way of this particular approach.”
In the legislature yesterday, the Conservatives said the Liberals set the tone for more blockades by allowing the Caledonia occupation to drag on.
“Premier, your government is creating a culture of violence and confusion in Napanee and Deseronto,” said Progressive Conservative critic Randy Hillier.
“We expect nothing less than one law for every man and injustice for no man. You choose not to protect our communities from armed thugs, nor do you defend legal title to our properties.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant said the government was following the recommendations of a judicial inquiry into a fatal police standoff with native protesters at Ipperwash Provincial Park that said the government should not direct law enforcement efforts. “It is not appropriate for the government to enter the law enforcement domain of the police,” Bryant said, quoting the Ipperwash report.
Deseronto has been the target of aboriginal protests in the past.
A group of Tyendinaga Mohawks shut down Highway 401 for 11 hours and blockaded the Montreal-Toronto rail corridor for the aboriginal national dDy of Action last June.
A similar blockade of the same busy rail line lasted 30 hours last April, ending peacefully after a night of negotiations with provincial police and other officials.
New Democrat Michael Prue said the Liberals haven’t addressed the concerns of aboriginal people by helping them expedite their land claims or by sharing Ontario’s great wealth.
“We have treated our aboriginal peoples abysmally for the last 150 years,” he said.
“We need to deal with them in a mature, nation-to-nation way that we’ve not done in the past. I would like the government to live up to its obligations.”