Show of OPP force ends native blockade

Show of OPP force ends native blockade

Posted By Jeremy Ashley
The Belleville Intelligencer (Ontario)
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Native protesters who orchestrated a blockade of a major portion of this town earlier this week dispersed Tuesday morning when confronted by a phalanx of OPP officers.

As well, the developer who sparked the incident pledged Tuesday to stay away from developing any portion of lands involved in the native claim known as the Culbertson Tract.

Shortly before 10 a.m., almost 200 officers from area detachments and led by the OPP’s Public Order Unit approached the native demonstration set up along Old Highway 2 at the eastern boundary of Deseronto. Police “advised those present at the road closure site to leave or be subjected to arrest and criminal charges,” said OPP Const. Jackie Perry.

After a short verbal exchange, the protesters decided to fold up their banners and de-camp to the nearby quarry where they have been holed up for a year.

“All of them (the protesters) left and there were no injuries,” Perry added.

Many of the protesters, including spokesman Dan Doreen, were visibly upset after encountering such a strong show of manpower by OPP, whom Doreen said appeared to “want to fight.”

Doreen decried the use of OPP “SWAT teams” and said the demonstration was “not a fight with the OPP, but it is a fight with Mr. Nibourg and … for him to stay off our goddamn land.”

“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,” he said in an interview with Quinte Broadcasting.

“We’re sick and tired of having to come down to Deseronto every week and protect our land. We’re sick of it.”

The move brought an abrupt end to a demonstration that, for the most part, was considered peaceful – but caused headaches for many residents and commuters when protesters sealed off traffic from portions of Old Highway 2, Deseronto and Slash roads around 6 a.m. Monday.

The initial police response Sunday night and Monday was designed not to disband the protest but to prevent the public from coming into close contact with the demonstrators by redirecting traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, around the scene.

However, the move Tuesday morning to effectively shut down the protest was orchestrated by OPP command.

“I think we can say it was a measured response,” said Perry, in reference to the overall police reaction to the demonstration. “This has been going on since 6 a.m. yesterday (Monday), the road had been blocked since that time and that was the decision that was made.”

As well, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, who was actively involved in dealing with Mohawk protesters at last summer’s native Day of Action protests, issued a statement that police are going to react decisively in such incidents.

“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,” Fantino said in a statement.

It is the second instance in which protesters, after negotiating with police and encountering stiff resolve from OPP, have withdrawn blockades. In the first instance, Mohawk protest leader Shawn Brant agreed to take down the Highway 401 and rail blockades of the National Day of Action protest after speaking through the night and day with police. At the time, Brant declared he had achieved what he had set out to do and withdrew the protests after issuing statements to a large media throng.

Police had not assembled on that day in the numbers seen Tuesday, but a heavy OPP presence was at the nearby Napanee OPP detachment.

Protesters are still occupying portions of the disputed land development, most notably at the nearby Thurlow Aggregates quarry along Deseronto Road, which they have occupied since last March.

After speaking briefly Tuesday with several members of the Mohawk police service who were at the site, Brant was involved in what appeared to be an impromptu meeting with a number of protesters at the side of Deseronto Road.

The gathering involved upward of 25 people who stood, knelt or were laying on the roadway.

The assembly quickly turned into a debriefing of sorts, with a number of protesters – many whom appeared to be upset – engaging in a lengthy conversation.

“Shawn’s not allowed to comment at all,” Doreen said when asked if Brant was available to speak about the situation.

Brant is still on several conditions after he was granted bail on criminal charges laid in connection to last June’s National Day of Action.

To date, Brant remains the only person charged in connection to the event.

Meanwhile, a number of criminal investigations – which may include a probe into a Napanee-area developer’s comments thought to have sparked the protest – have been launched by provincial police, Const. Perry said.

While she couldn’t confirm specifically the subject of any criminal investigation, Perry said the OPP are committed to pressing criminal charges, if warranted.

“Those responsible for criminal wrongdoing will be held accountable to the full extent provided by the law,” Perry said in a statement issued earlier in the day.

Last week, Nibourg Development’s Emile Nibourg told The Intelligencer of plans to have a crew of workers at the site of a native land claim known as the Culbertson Tract in Deseronto to clear the property for construction early Monday.

The disputed land is part of a claim accepted by the federal government for negotiation in 2003.

According to native protesters, the comments sparked the demonstration and blockades.

Shortly after the demonstration, Nibourg’s firm issued a statement saying construction crews would not be attending “in the name of public safety.”

The statement called upon the federal and provincial governments to resolve the dispute and its inaction “is leading to unrest between the natives and non-natives, putting all people at great risk.”

“Today’s large protest and occupation of our land proves that this explosive situation will only intensify without government action.”

In what would be considered an about-face, Tuesday, the company issued another news bulletin stating the firm would “refrain from the pursuit of a development of the Culbertson Tract, to allow the different levels of government the opportunity to continue with negotiations in a timely manner.”

Both of the company’s owners – Theo and Emile Nibourg – declined to be interviewed about the situation.

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