RAPID LAKE, QUEBEC: Government responds to Algonquin demands with police violence

October 9, 2008
RAPID LAKE, QUEBEC: Government responds to Algonquin demands with police violence

At 5:30 a.m., on 6 October 2008, seventy-five members of the Barrière Lake Algonquin First Nations (BLAFN) along with twenty non-native supporters set up a nonviolent blockade on Hwy 117, approximately 300 km north of Ottawa/Gatineau.  The Algonquins were calling on the federal and provincial governments to honour a resource-sharing agreement signed twenty years ago, and to respect their customary governance structures.  They dragged logs across the highway, and set up ‘lockboxes’: cement-filled barrels designed to allow individuals to insert their arms so that the authorities cannot easily pull people participating in a public witness away from a site.  Three members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were present as human rights observers.

Upon the arrival of Quebec Provincial Police (QPP) personnel, police liaison Norman Matchewan, requested that they call government authorities who are supposed to negotiate with the community.  Eventually, the police informed the blockade participants that they had called in SWAT team from Montreal.  CPTers introducing themselves as human rights observers were informed that they could be arrested.

As the day wore on, traffic backed up along the highway.  Several truckers accepted invitations to attend the fires at the blockade site and partake in tea and coffee.  At 15:48, a SWAT team arrived equipped with helmets, gas masks, and batons.  After ordering everyone to vacate the highway, the SWAT team began to push people off and set off two canisters of tear gas although demonstrators and observers repeatedly informed them that they were protesting peacefully and that seniors and children were present.  A disabled child and an elder were hit directly by the gas canisters.

After they cleared most blockaders from the highway, police surrounded the lockboxes, impeding the view of observers.  They threatened CPTers attempting to gain a view with arrest.  The police chose to use coercive techniques to force people to remove their arms from the lockboxes.  CPTers observed a police officer with his hands around the neck of a woman locked into these barrels.  Later a demonstrator said the police officers used “pain compliance” techniques on him, making him release himself by jabbing their fingers into pressure points in his nose, throat, and Adam’s apple.  A seventeen-year-old participant said that when she refused to comply with a request to remove her hand from the lockbox, an officer began to pinch the underside of her arm and did not stop even when she said she would release herself.

Police arrested nine people, including an elder.  One elder said the police response reminded him of the residential school experience in that government is forcibly and actively destroying his culture.  He said that for the children present this attack would leave scars that would never heal.

People wishing to see a slide show of the events at the blockade will find it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/31135244@N07/sets/72157607795831835/show/