At least six people have been arrested as dozens of Ontario Provincial Police—some seemingly sporting tactical gear—stormed Tyendinaga Mohawk (Kanyen‘keha:ka) territory on Monday morning to dismantle the railway blockade near Belleville, Ontario.
In one CTV News report, several police can be seen physically taking down a Wet’suwet’en supporter before making the arrest.
Tyendinaga organizers have maintained the railway blockade for nearly three weeks as a way to support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are currently protesting the development of the $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline along their territory in Northern B.C. Demonstrators were given until 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday to leave without risk of arrest, but they decided to remain on site. According to reports, they say they’re prepared to face the police.
OPP started arresting people shortly after arriving on scene in several police vans, cruisers, and unmarked vehicles, with reports confirming at least six people were in handcuffs by 10 a.m. Two of the arrested have been removed from the area in police vehicles.
A Facebook account called Real Peoples Media has shared several videos and images of police contingents in the area, including visuals of the arrests.
“There has always and continues to be, a willingness from the Tyendinaga Mohawks to discuss an exit strategy of the CN Rail Main Line,” the statement said. “We are currently waiting for confirmation from the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs that the RCMP have left Wet’suwet’en territory.”
The police action follows a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who told reporters on Friday that all railway blockades across Canada need to be dismantled.
According to Wet’suwet’en supporters in Tyendinaga as well as Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, RCMP said officers would announce their plans to withdraw from Wet’suwet’en territory Monday afternoon.
“This is suggesting that this unnecessary use of force was a coordinated face-saving measure of the federal government as a peaceful resolution was being negotiated,” the statement said.
RCMP officers are still patrolling the area, as per a court injunction, an RCMP spokesperson confirmed.
In a statement to VICE, the RCMP said it is currently in talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, but did not offer specific information about the ongoing discussions.
The Prime Minister’s office was not available for immediate comment.
The blockades have prevented hundreds of trains from travelling across Canada and resulted in hundreds of temporary layoffs for CN Rail and Via Rail workers. “Canadians have been patient, our government has been patient. But it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau encouraged authorities to enforce court injunctions, which enable the forced removal of groups blocking railroads.
Tyendinaga Mohawk maintain they have complied with the injunctions, which were issued on February 7.
“There is no trespassing on CN’s railway right-of-way…as this is Tyendinaga Territory,” the First Nation said. “There is no physical interference or obstruction of the railway tracks.”
Several witnesses have said that Wet’suwet’en supporters in Tyendinaga never blocked the train tracks directly; the camp sat adjacent to the tracks. But CN Rail and Via Rail have said they don’t think it’s safe to allow trains to travel close to protesters.
As OPP vehicles started streaming into Tyendinaga Territory, people standing in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en continued to mobilize across Canada. A new railway blockade arose in Saskatchewan on Sunday, but organizers allowed a train to pass through.
Shortly after OPP arrived in Tyendinaga, Trudeau convened the Incident Response Group, which includes senior cabinet ministers who hold relevant portfolios, to discuss the arrests.
“We are committed to reconciliation and we are committed to sitting down and having a dialogue over the specific problem that exists at the moment with the Wet’suwet’en,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters outside of the meeting. “But at the same time the barricades had to come down because it was having a profound effect on the economy.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who was also in the meeting, said police are “doing their job.”
Late Sunday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted concerns about the police raid in Tyendinaga.
“Reports that police are moving in on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory are incredibly troubling. Police action is not the way to de-escalate this,” Singh said.
Across the country, Wet’suwet’en supporters have said they will not stop mobilizing until the RCMP leave Wet’suwet’en territory. Their sentiments echo conditions set by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who have repeatedly said they will prevent pipeline construction and will not negotiate with Ottawa until police officers leave their territory and Coastal GasLink halts construction.
This is a breaking news story, so we will continue to update it as the situation progresses.
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