Canadian Police Refuse to Clear Indian Rail Blockade
Aug. 17, 1990
WHITE RIVER, Ontario (AP) _ The Canadian government ordered the removal of Indian protest barricades blocking the country's main east-west rail link, but provincial authorities on Friday balked at intervening.
The Long Lake Indians say they are trying to attract the federal government's attention to a land ownership dispute dating to 1915, when the railway was put through an Indian reserve.
On Thursday, the federal government told Canadian National Rail to remove protest blockades erected Monday in northern Ontario.
But provincial police Constable Bob Gilman said Friday, ''No enforcement action will be taken as long as a negotiated settlement is possible.
''We're monitoring things, but that's all we intend to do for now.''
Gilman spoke in Long Lake, about 185 miles northeast of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior.
The Long Lake band is blocking the main line of government-owned CN Rail.
CN spokesman Roger Cameron said officials asked for police help because the railway believes it has a legal right to clear the blockade.
''It's affecting operations and our ability to serve our customers,'' he said from Montreal. ''We have the legal right to operate where we do.''
About 120 miles south of the Long Lake barricades, band members used steel rails and railway ties Thursday to block a CP Rail line through the Pic Mobert Indian reserve.
That barrier will stay put, said band Chief James Kwissiwa, until federal Indian Affairs Minister Tom Siddon or Health and Welfare Minister Perrin Beatty visit the reserve to discuss an unsettled land claim and improvements in housing conditions, roads, sewers and water service.
Siddon told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday he won't meet band leaders until the blockades come down.
''We will not deal in the face of roadblocks and intimidation. That's not the way that we do business,'' he said in Vancouver, British Columbia.
CN Rail has responded to the blockage by diverting some freight trains through the United States.
Via, the national passenger rail service, cannot route its passenger trains through the northwestern United States, a spokesman said. All eastbound passenger trains are stopping in Winnipeg, and westbound continental travelers must take a bus or fly from Toronto to Winnipeg.
Tom Hodges, a spokesman for the United Transportation Union, said Friday the union is upset because American crews are manning the diverted trains on CN-owned track in the United States.
''What is resulting is that we're having over 300 layoffs in Canada, and work is being picked up in the U.S.,'' he said.
''We're asking CN today that we expect to have the opportunity to man those trains between Sarnia and Chicago with Canadian National employees. Failing that, we're advising them we're going to set up blockades at the Sarnia Tunnel.'' The tunnel links Sarnia, Ontario, with Port Huron, Mich.
However, CN spokesman John-Guy Brodeur, called the reports of layoffs ''a rumor.'' ''There's been no directives to do that,'' he said.
Federal officials have also been trying to settle a 5-week-old armed standoff between Quebec provincial police and Mohawk Indians at Oka, 18 miles west of Montreal. The Mohawks are trying to block a golf course extension on land they claim as ancestral.
Mohawk and federal representatives held their second day of formal talks Friday in Montreal to seek a solution to that dispute. No breakthroughs were reported on the talks, which are taking place behind closed doors.