Ontario Provincial Police cleared a rail blockade on Monday on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont., in a Feb. 24, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Police move to clear rail blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY, Ont. — Ontario Provincial Police moved Monday morning to clear a rail blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

The blockade near Belleville, Ont., has crippled both freight and passenger rail traffic in most of eastern Canada for nearly three weeks.

Ontario Provincial Police and CN Rail had reportedly given protesters until midnight Sunday to clear the blockade or face an investigation and possible criminal charges.

The barricades were a response to a move by the RCMP to clear protesters who had been blocking access to a Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline worksite on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia.

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation oppose the work on their traditional territory, despite support from elected band councils along the pipeline route.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the barricades had to come down and injunctions ordering the tracks cleared needed to be enforced.

Trudeau spoke by phone Sunday with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Quebec Premier François Legault, and B.C.’s John Horgan “to discuss the railway blockades and the impacts they are having across the country on Canadians and the economy.”

According to a statement from the PMO, Trudeau informed the premiers of measures being taken to ensure that critical needs are addressed, including propane, chemicals to treat drinking water, and essential agricultural products.

“We will remain in close contact with all provinces to address urgent needs as required, and we will continue to support co-ordinated efforts to find a resolution,” the statement said.

Trudeau and the premiers also reiterated their commitment to resolving the situation peacefully.

Wet’suwet’en Heredity Chief Na’moks, also known as John Ridsdale, said Sunday that Trudeau’s “antagonistic” speech had just the opposite effect.

“If the prime minister had not made that speech the Mohawks would have taken down everything,” he said. “They were ready. We were on the phone.”

Na’moks said all five hereditary chiefs were expected to meet in northern B.C. Monday to plan their next steps and talks with the RCMP could resume on Thursday at the earliest.

He said the chiefs will not budge from their demands for the Mounties to remove every component of a mobile unit from their territory before meeting with them.

Dawn Roberts, a spokeswoman for the RCMP, said the mobile unit had been temporarily closed and discussions were underway with the deputy commissioner about its future.

The chiefs visited supporters this week in Tyendinaga and Kahnawake south of Montreal, and repeated that their conditions for talks to begin had not been met.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2020.

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