Judge warns of arrests or even violence if more rail blockades occur
By: Mike McIntyre
Protesters on the CN rail tracks that cross the Yellowhead Highway west of Portage la Prairie last week. CN Rail police were on the scene to alert the conductor, and the westbound train stopped about a kilometre away from the protesters. (WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
A Manitoba judge has put aboriginal protesters on notice that any further rail line blockades will most certainly end in arrest – and could possibly lead to violence.
The strong warning from Queens Bench Justice Don Bryk came Thursday as he extended an existing court injunction which was ignored last week without consequences.
“It would be better if these confrontations could be avoided, because confrontations have the potential to escalate. And when confrontations escalate there is potential for violence and harm,” said Bryk.
Last week’s day-long protest halted road and rail traffic at Highway 16 near the Trans-Canada Highway just west of Portage la Prairie. No arrests were made as RCMP chose to stand by and allow the blockade to end on its own, despite Bryks order to remove the protesters.
Organizer Terry Nelson was in court Thursday to fight the CN application.
The former chief of the Roseau River First Nation told Bryk he couldnt promise future compliance. The railway is on Treaty 1 land and has been “stolen” from his people, he said said. A century ago, the track sliced through a large Ojibwa settlement at that location, carving up the community that later formed the three First Nations of Long Plain, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake.
“Theres no question… we are the owners of this land,” said Nelson, who is representing himself in court. “Canada is obligated to ensure the conditions of the treaty are met.”
Bryk agreed to extend the temporary injunction until Feb. 19, which will give Nelson and lawyers for CN time to file additional materials for what is expected to be a prolonged legal battle. Per the court order, protesters are not allowed to convene on any CN rail lines in Manitoba.
“I recognize the positions that are being advanced on behalf of aboriginal people in this country. And I recognize the issues are complex,” said Bryk. “But (CN) is entitled to continue to do their business without interference.”
CN wants a permanent order made, but Nelson has vowed to fight such a move.
Last weeks protest saw a small group of people form a human blockade on the tracks while RCMP officers stood by watching. Officers also diverted traffic from the area, deciding they would take away the protesters’ “audience” rather than arrest the protesters themselves.
Participants said they were prepared to face arrest to continue the protest, which they said was intended to send a message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour the treaties.
Nelson originally claimed the protest would last for 72 hours, but it dispersed as evening fell.
Nelson told court Thursday he has no personal beef with CN, but cant say the same about the federal government.
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