Aboriginal Justice: Barriere Lake: Algonquins Face Riot Squad Again

 

On 19 November 2008, for the second time in as many months, members of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake blockaded Provincial Highway 117, a busy resource distribution route used by Canadian logging companies and other industries.  The Quebec Provincial police again responded with excessive force.

Starting at 7:00 a.m., approximately 100 Algonquins and twenty settler (non-indigenous) supporters used downed trees to construct a series of four blockades over a fifteen-kilometer stretch of Hwy 117, which includes the entrance to the Barriere Lake Reserve, about 300 km north of Ottawa.  CPT maintained a human rights observer presence at the blockades and on the road leading to the reserve from Highway 117. 

The demonstrators demanded that Canada and the province of Québec honour the Trilateral Agreement, signed in 1991 but not fully implemented.  The agreements, which the United Nations considers a model for future treaties, specifies the conditions under which logging and other resource use can occur on traditional Algonquin territory.  Currently Algonquins of Barriere Lake live in extreme poverty on the fifty-nine acre reserve while logging and other activities throughout their traditional territory generate millions of dollars for corporations.

Police arrested Marylynn Poucachiche, a group spokesperson, early in the action despite her having indicated a willingness to dismantle the blockade.  At the intersection of Highway 117 and the gravel road leading to the reserve, the Québec Provincial police created their own blockade, preventing free movement of Algonquins.  The police maintained the barricade two and a half hours after Highway 117 had been cleared and traffic was flowing again.  After traffic resumed, riot police pushed the Algonquins and their supporters down the icy road towards the reserve.  With their batons, police forced those who could not keep up with the brisk pace, including elders, to run; some fell.  As the riot squad swept the group down the road, they arrested three more people, including Benjamin Nottaway, recognized by the demonstrators as their Acting Chief.  Between pushes, while an officer stood by poised to fire tear gas, the incident commander warned the community to clear the road or face further arrests.

In a similar blockade at the same location on October 6, riot police launched tear gas canisters that hit and hospitalized a disabled child and an elder.

By not honouring the Trilateral Agreement, the Québec government lays the foundation for violent police responses to peaceful Algonquin resistance.  CPT calls on the Canadian and Québec governments to abide by the Trilateral Agreement signed with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake.