Ontario: Mohawk uprising spreads

From the AP, April 22:

CALEDONIA, Ontario — As an uneasy calm settled amid the barricades, fresh tensions erupted Friday as protesters shut down a vital Ontario rail corridor in solidarity with those occupying a disputed tract of southwestern Ontario land.

Chill winds and a steady rain did little to weaken the resolve of hundreds of protesters at the half-finished housing development on land claimed by the Six Nations in Caledonia, Ontario, a community of about 10,000 people about 20 minutes south of Hamilton.

The occupiers claim they’re the rightful owners of 98.8 acres at the center of an unfinished subdivision. Talks meant to settle the dispute were ongoing Friday between police, provincial and federal officials and Native representatives.

Some 200 miles away, however, a new dispute was brewing.

About 50 Mohawks from the Tyendinaga reserve near the town of Marysville, about 120 miles east of Toronto, used old school buses and bonfires to block a small road near the main CN track in a show of support for the Caledonia cause.

The new blockade disrupted freight trains and forced Via Rail to stop taking bookings for weekend travel on the line, which links Toronto and southern Ontario with Ottawa and Montreal. Passengers with tickets were being ferried to their destinations by bus.

Canadian National Railway Inc. obtained a court injunction Friday to compel the protesters to remove the obstruction.

Speaking in Ottawa, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was holding out hope that the pleaded for patience from all sides.

The Caledonia standoff erupted Thursday when a police raid aimed at ending a seven-week Native occupation resulted in dozens more protesters descending on the scene, pushing police back and barricading a main highway.

Is the Canadian military about to intervene? From Canada’s alternative The Dominion, April 22, via Autonomy & Solidarity, which has been closely following the conflict:

A military force of unknown size and capacity seems to be operating out of the Hamilton airport, according to information gathered by the Dominion. The deployment of military forces would be a major escalation in the standoff between native protesters and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The OPP has tried once, unsucessfully, to remove demonstrators occupying a housing development that Six Nations Kanienkehake (Mohawks) say is illegal under Canadian, Haudenosaunee and international law.

In an interview, an Airport official initially confirmed that Canadian Forces were at the airport in a “back up support” capacity. Mary Beth Horvath, Marketing/Commuications Coordinator for the Hamilton Airport, first told the Dominion that Canadian Forces were not “using it (the airport) as a staging ground. I haven’t heard it regarded in that term.”

Asked later to confirm, Horvath repeated that “there is some backup support there.” When asked to specifically to confirm if Canadian Forces were on site, Horvath responded that “I don’t know if, again, I don’t know to what extent or to what, so I’m not, I really don’t want to be quoted on that because I’m not there to actually see it, physically.”

(Update: A resident of Caledonia who asked not to be identified told the Dominion he saw an unmarked grey van travelling in his neighborhood, blocks away from the standoff, with eight Canadian Forces personnel. “They looked like Rangers,” the source said.)

Horvath referred the Dominion to two other officials, neither of which denied that Canadian Forces were operating from the Hamilton Airport.

“I know nothing about that,” said Haldiman County official Bill Pierce when asked about a military staging ground at the airport.

Dave Rector, a spokesperson for the Ontario Provincial Police, said “I am not aware of the presence of any Canadian armed forces.”

Eyewitness and press reports have confirmed that RCMP are assisting the OPP, and some reports cite the Airport as the Federal police force’s staging area. An RCMP spokesperson confirmed that RCMP are playing a supporting role, but would not comment on any specific locations or activities.

As of this writing, the Dominion could not find any officials willing to deny the deployment of military to the airport.

Federal Involvement?

The deployment of military would mark the involvement of the Federal Government, marking a departure from what officials have repeatedly insisted is a Provincial matter.

The last time Canadian Forces were deployed against native demonstrators was during the 1990 Oka crisis, when Kanienkehake citizens occupied land that was slated for a golf course development. The land had been stolen a century earlier by the Catholic Church, and a century of Kanienkehake protests had not changed the situation. Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa invoked the National Defense Act, requesting “military aid to the civil power”. The deployment of the Canadian army ended with one dead soldier, two civilian deaths, and reports of torture and unjustified tactics earned Canada the condemnation of the International Federation of Human Rights and a place on Amnesty International’s list of violators of human rights.

Provincial officials requested the deployment of Canadian Forces–specifically, the elite Joint Task Force Two–during the 1995 Gustafsen Lake standoff, but were officially denied. According to court testimony by police officers, police took flack jackets to a firing range and fired guns at them in order to create the appearance that police had been shot by the small group of natives occupying the site. Internal police video showed commanders stating the need for a “disinformation and smear campaign” against the native occupiers. With 77,000 rounds of ammunition shot by police, the deployment of amoured vehicles, and the use of a land mine against a truck driven by one of the demonstrators, Gustafsen lake has been cited as the largest paramilitary deployment in Canadian history.

Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese, in his book Canada’s Secret Commandos: The Unauthorized Story of Joint Task Task Force Two, wrote that officially, JTF2 “wasn’t deployed to the standoff.”

“But civilian police officers privately confirm that JTF2 operators were at the siege, helping them in covert intelligence gathering as well as determining the lay of the land in case the entire unit was needed for an assault on the native encampment,” Pugliese wrote. “Some of the native protesters also insist that it was members of JTF2, and not the RCMP, who engaged them in a gun battle in early September.”

Federal officials have denied that the current standoff at Six Nations has anything to do with land. “This is not a lands-claim matter,” Deirdre McCracken, a spokesperson for the Minister of Indian Affairs Jim Prentice told reporters. McCracken also said that the blockade “has nothing to do with the federal government.”

The presence of Canadian Forces on the ground, if confirmed, will be a stark change from the government’s stated policy.

See our last post on the Mohawk uprising.