Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Friday he’s against a Mohawk Council of Kahnawake proposal it argues could lead to the withdrawal of RCMP patrols from Wet’suwet’en territory and bring a peaceful resolution to the railroad protests on Mohawk territory.
“The RCMP are the police of jurisdiction working under police contract with the B.C. government in that territory and in most of non-urban British Columbia,” Blair told the CBC.
“They’re very good and competent police service and the people in that territory deserve the very best in police service that can be provided. And today that’s by the RCMP.”
Though rejecting or accepting the proposal is not his decision, Blair told CBC the RCMP will “continue to do their work.”
The comments came after Chief Peacekeeper Dwayne Zacharie called for the creation of an Indigenous-led police force that would replace the RCMP on Wet’suwet’en land in northern British Columbia. This would address a key demand from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs resisting the construction of a natural gas pipeline across their territory.
The chiefs want the RCMP to pull out of their unceded lands — a 22,000 square kilometre expanse in the northern B.C. wilderness.
“We’re all looking for a peaceful resolution to this,” said Constable Kyle Zachary, speaking on behalf of the Mohawk Peacekeepers.
As the Wet’suwet’en and federal government met in B.C. on Friday, the mood at Kahnawake’s protest camp was “cautiously optimistic,” according to Kenneth Deer, the secretary of the Kahnawake Longhouse.
The hereditary chiefs and Crown Indigenous Minister Carolyn Bennett began negotiating Thursday in hopes of bringing the crisis to an end. Beyond the pullback of RCMP patrols from their land, the Wet’suwet’en want construction on the Coastal Gaslink pipeline halted during negotiations.
Deer says the Mohawks are waiting on orders from the Wet’suwet’en to decamp their solidarity protest.
“We were always prepared to take it down,” Deer said. “The criteria is set. There is no other issue, we’re not here to pile on other issues. We’re not changing the goalposts. … We don’t know how negotiations are going, but the fact that they’re still going is good.”
Asked about the Peacekeepers’ proposal, Deer said “it’s an option … if there’s mistrust between (the Wet’suwet’en) and the RCMP it’s a solution.” Though the Longhouse and band council represent political factions within Kahnawake, they are steadfast in their support of the railroad protest.
The Mohawks set up a checkpoint at the rail line on the South Shore on Feb. 8, after the RCMP began clearing Wet’suwet’en land defenders from their territory in B.C. to make way for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline. The checkpoint has disrupted hundreds of rail shipments between Montreal and Candiac.
That action was coupled with a protest in sister Mohawk community Tyendinaga, Ont. — a crucial junction for freight shipments between Toronto and Montreal.
Ontario police moved into the Tyendinaga camp Monday, arresting 10 people and clearing the railroad. That sparked a rolling blockade of the Mercier Bridge in Kahnawake and cemented a much larger presence by the tracks.
Protesters in Tyendinaga sabotaged the tracks Wednesday and they maintain a presence near the CN railroad that passes through their territory.
Though Canadian Pacific has an injunction to move in on the Kahnawake camp, Mohawk peacekeepers said Monday they will not assist in any operation that violates their sovereignty. Chief Peacekeeper Zacharie is in regular contact with the SQ, according to Zachary.
Quebec Premier François Legault says the Sûreté du Québec hasn’t raided the Mohawk territory because there are AK-47 assault rifles on site.
“There isn’t a single weapon in that camp,” Zachary said. “Saying otherwise is hazardous. There are women and children in that camp.”
Deer and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake have demanded an apology from Legault, but the premier doubled down Thursday, repeating his statements from the previous day.
A Quebecor Media report pointed to a recent weapons seizure by Mohawk Peacekeepers as evidence to support Legault’s claims. During a Jan. 7 traffic stop, the Peacekeepers seized an MP40 machine gun from a car on the territory, according to a press release.
Zachary, who wrote the press release, called the report “irresponsible, inflammatory journalism.”
“The guns came from outside the territory and were delivered by two non-Indigenous men,” Zachary said. “The buyer was Mohawk and he has been arrested. It is irresponsible to suggest that’s an accurate portrayal of what goes on here and what’s happening at the camp.”
MCK spokesperson Joe Delaronde says Friday’s proposal is in line with council’s philosophy of offering solutions to de-escalate the conflict.
“We’re not saying: ‘Hey Premier Legault you so and so,’ we’re calling for cooler heads to prevail,” Delaronde said. “We’re acting in good faith and we have been from the beginning.”