Late Monday afternoon, nearly 60 Quebec officers and riot police violently dispersed a peaceful blockade on Highway 117 by the Barriere Lake Algonquin community, whose residents believe Canada has dishonoured their signed agreements and interfered with their local government.
Around 6 p.m. – 12 hours into the protest – Quebec officers and riot police surrounded the blockade 350 kilometres north-west of Montreal and, without warning, began to fire tear gas canisters into the crowd, hitting an Algonquin man and child directly with canisters while injuring several others. Nine arrests were made, and two protestors were hospitalized, according to Barriere Lake Solidarity, a citizen action group.
“We will not tolerate these brutal violations of our rights,” said Norman Matchewan, a spokesperson for the Barriere Lake Algonquin community, as part of a press release sent out early Monday before Quebec riot police appeared. “We will be doing more non-violent direct action.”
Barriere Lake Solidarity reported additional physical abuse by the police.
“While a line of police obscured the view of human rights observers from Christian Peacemaker Teams, officers used severe ‘pain compliance’ techniques on protestors who had secured themselves to concrete-filled barrels, twisting arms, dislocating jaws, leaving them with bruised faces and trouble swallowing,” the release read.
This brutality follows on the heels of alarm raised over comments made last month by Darlene Lannigan, the personal assistant of Conservative Minister Lawrence Cannon, which were perceived as racist.
“In this election alone, the Conservatives have labeled us alcoholics and vilified our community’s majority as ‘dissidents,’” said Michel Thusky, another Barriere Lake spokesperson, in a release. “Now they and Quebec have chosen violence over meeting their most basic obligations to our community. ‘Pain compliance’ is the perfect description of the Conservative government’s aboriginal policies.”
The blockade was the latest event in a 20-year long struggle against federal interference in local government and failure to implement signed agreements – such as the 1991 Trilateral Agreement, praised by the United Nations and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples for the sustainable development and resource co-management initiatives.
The provincial government has also failed to carry out promises of revenue sharing based on use of ancestral land for logging, hunting, and tourism.
“[We] exhausted all our political options, [and the Federal Government] ignored or dismissed our community, leaving us with no choice but to peacefully blockade the highway to force the government to deal fairly with us,” said Matchewan in a release.
Thusky pointed to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) interference as a crucial point of contention.
“The federal government deliberately avoided our leadership customs by ousting our Customary Chief and Council,” Thusky said in a Barriere Lake Solidarity press release. “In what amounts to a coup d’état, they are recognizing a Chief and Council rejected by the community majority.”
INAC, however, denied intervention in the 2008 selection process.
“The Department acknowledged the results of the customary selection process from January 2008,” said Margot Geduld, of the INAC Media Relations office. “The Algonquins choose their own leaders. INAC does not intervene [in the selection process], we simply acknowledge the results.”
“We hope the Algonquin people find a solution to their problems,” she added.