OTTAWA — A number of Indigenous elders and demonstrators were arrested for trespassing Monday on Parliament Hill after breaching a designated perimeter for protests during a rally against the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador.
“The point we made here today is that it’s poisonous; we’re drowning,” said Jim Learning, an Inuit elder from Cartwright, N.L.
Almost 20 protesters were escorted from outside of Centre Block to the East Block courtyard, where they were held for about 30 minutes.
The protesters were carrying water bottles and photos of children that they wanted to deliver to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in hopes of showing some of the people who are at risk of methylmercury poisoning when the Muskrat Falls reservoir is flooded.
The protesters were escorted shortly after an exchange with Labrador MP Yvonne Jones.
Learning, Marjorie Flowers and Eldred Davis — all three of whom were arrested and jailed in St. John’s last summer for protesting the project — were among those detained.
The remaining members of the crowd cheered as members of their group emerged from the courtyard.
One of those who was detained, Matthew Behrens, 54, said the arrested protesters are banned from Parliament Hill for 90 days.
Behrens said none of the Indigenous representatives from Labrador were asked to provide free, prior and informed consent before the federal government decided to go ahead with the project.
“None were offered or gave ‘free prior informed’ consent for the poison. How is that respectful? How is that a nation-to-nation relationship? It’s bogus,” Behrens said into a megaphone after being released from the courtyard.
“We’re going to keep up this struggle,” he said.
Behrens spoke about the brief exchange protesters had with Jones and accused the Liberal MP of defending cultural genocide.
Demonstrators said police ordered them to stay put and not step off the curb where they were protesting and threatened that if they moved any closer to Centre Block they would be arrested.
Learning said they “symbolically ignored the trespass line.”
“In principle, that sucks,” he said. ”We are a free society. I guess they have a job to do … as a law abiding citizen I expect nothing like that.”
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Matthew Behrens’ surname.