Blockades won't resolve native land claims: premier
TORONTO - Road blockades that are a headache for police, create anxiety and threaten people's safety are no way to resolve long-standing aboriginal land disputes, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday as a Mohawk barricade was dismantled in eastern Ontario.
The blockade -- erected Sunday night near Belleville, Ont., to protest a land dispute with a Kingston-based developer -- came down after Tuesday morning's arrival of about 200 Ontario Provincial Police officers on the main road through Deseronto.
"The OPP will continue to uphold the right to lawful, peaceful protest; however we do not condone illegal activity and will not tolerate conduct intended to disrupt public peace and threaten public safety,'' Commissioner Julian Fantino said in a statement.
The blockade was just one of several protests and smaller traffic disruptions in the area over the past two days, said Sgt. Kristine Rae, adding that police are investigating to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
Protesters are still occupying the disputed land development and a nearby quarry they have occupied since last March.
Although critics say the Liberals have encouraged such protests across the province by allowing the Six Nations occupation in Caledonia to continue for more than two years, McGuinty called for the barricades to come down less than two hours before police arrived on the scene.
"This has now become an issue of real concern to our police,'' he said following a morning event in Toronto. "There are safety issues and we're always concerned about what might happen when it comes to that. People get anxious.''
About 75 Mohawk protesters shut down the road to protest a land dispute with Nibourg Developments, which said it would begin to clear brush Monday on property it owns in the town southwest of Napanee.
The disputed land is part of a claim accepted by the federal government for negotiation in 2003.
"I want every developer ... that plans to develop in Deseronto to stay the hell out or we're going to go through this again and again and again and again until it's done,'' protester Dan Doreen told a local radio station.
"It's not a fight with the OPP. ... We're sick and tired of having to come down to Deseronto every week and protect our land. We're sick of it.''
Developer Emile Nibourg declined to be interviewed but referred to a statement issued by his firm calling on the federal and provincial governments to resolve the dispute. Their inaction "is leading to unrest between the natives and non-natives, putting all people at great risk,'' the statement said.
But McGuinty said there are better ways to resolve outstanding land disputes.
"We have worked really hard as a government to pursue a new direction when it comes to our relationship with our aboriginal communities,'' McGuinty said.
"We understand the best way to resolve outstanding issues is at the table, not by way of this particular approach.''
Conservative Lisa MacLeod said the Liberals have set the tone by allowing the Six Nations occupation of a former housing development site in Caledonia to drag on for more than two years while negotiations continue.
Until the province decides to enforce the law, or at least refuses to negotiate until the occupations end, MacLeod said there will be more road blockades.
"There is no question that the lack of action on behalf of the McGuinty Liberals has caused a real crisis in the confidence of their government,'' she said.
"Until they actually start to enforce one rule for all Ontarians, we're going to see disruptions right across Ontario.''
Deseronto has been the target of aboriginal protests in the past.
A group of Tyendinaga Mohawks shut down Highway 401 for 11 hours and blockaded the Montreal-Toronto rail corridor for the aboriginal national day of action last June.
A similar blockade of the same busy rail line lasted 30 hours last April, ending peacefully after a night of negotiations with provincial police and other officials.
New Democrat Michael Prue said the Liberals are partly to blame for these constant protests. The province hasn't addressed the concerns of aboriginal people by helping them expedite their land claims or by sharing Ontario's great wealth, Prue said.
"We have treated our aboriginal peoples abysmally for the last 150 years,'' he said. "We need to deal with them in a mature, nation-to-nation way that we've not done in the past. I would like the government to live up to its obligations.''