First Nations authorities denounced Premier François Legault Wednesday, saying he is inflaming tensions with his “reckless” rhetoric.
Legault said Wednesday the Mohawks of Kahnawake who are blocking Canadian Pacific Railway tracks are in possession of heavy weapons — specifically AK-47 assault rifles.
“We have information that confirms there are weapons, AK-47s to name them,” Legault said. “Thus weapons that are very dangerous.”
He said the Sûreté du Québec is hesitating to act as a result. He said the provincial police force is examining all options when it comes to enforcing the injunction obtained by CP Rail on Tuesday ordering an end to the blockades.
“The SQ is working on a plan to dismantle the blockade,” he said. “They are speaking to the Peacekeepers. But there are people who are armed. It’s very delicate.”
Asked why he was revealing this fact, Legault said: “I want people to understand why the SQ has not intervened yet.”
Legault did not specify whether the weapons in question are on the reserve or at the blockade itself, but he said caution is required regardless.
“I do not want to have on my conscience that police were wounded during an action,” he said.
He repeated his complaint that CP is no longer able to use the rail line and that it is hurting the economy.
Blockade organizers are acting in solidarity with those opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation near Houston, B.C.
Kenneth Deer, a spokesperson for the protesters in Kahnawake, said Legault was making “false statements.”
“We are absolutely shocked and totally dismayed by the comments of Premier Legault,” said Deer, secretary of the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake. “I think it’s highly irresponsible. We are totally and absolutely not armed and we don’t intend to be armed.”
Deer said the people of Kahnawake “are committed to a peaceful resolve and continue to support the Wet’suwet’en people in this struggle.”
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake also denounced Legault’s statements.
“The Premier needs to be far more careful in his actions,” Ietsénhaienhs Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said in a statement. “Once certain statements are made, they often can’t be taken back. Using terms like “armed” and “AK-47’s” is extremely inflammatory and, in fact, dangerous. It could be interpreted as an intent to incite a response.”
Legault’s statement was also denounced by Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.
“Premier Legault is making very dangerous and offensive comments by suggesting the presence of weapons in Kahnawake,” Picard said in a statement. “He certainly did not consider the consequences of his words for community members who live with the memories of 30 years ago on a daily basis.
Legault, however, said earlier that the police have “good sources” and remain confident about the validity of their information.
Regardless, Deer said SQ officers should stay off the territory if they don’t want a confrontation.
“It’s up to the SQ to decide if they want to have a physical confrontation or not,” he said. “It would be better if they don’t come in at all. It would be better if Canadian Pacific withdrew its injunction or didn’t serve it.”
On Wednesday morning, several piles of rocks were dumped in front of the barricade site. The footprint of the barricade was getting steadily larger, as construction trucks brought concrete barriers in, and other trucks brought in gravel to place near the tracks, where mud was causing a problem for cars driving in and out of the area.
“We’re hoping that they don’t come, but we’re preparing in case they do,” Deer said. “We’re being cautious. Now that there’s an injunction out there, people will be taking certain precautions.”
A source at the barricade, who didn’t wish to divulge her name, said the area has a kitchen tent, an area where children play, and protesters had just finished building a fish smoker on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve never seen the community this united,” she said. “I can’t emphasize enough that this is peaceful, it’s calm and there are no weapons. To say otherwise is dangerous. Legault is causing a panic.”
Another protester coming away from the blockade Wednesday said a confrontation with the SQ would be a huge step backward for relations with the government.
“Canada and Quebec have agreed that the sole policing authority are the Kahnawake Peacekeepers,” said Taiaiake Alfred. “We have 30 years of co-operation and goodwill with the SQ and Kahnawake. Is Quebec willing to throw all that away? That’s what would happen if hardliner people (asking for the SQ to intervene) got their way.”
Also Wednesday, a senior Legault minister warned the dispute is impeding trade and will have an effect on Quebec’s economic growth.
“It’s clear it will have an effect,” Economic Development Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon told reporters arriving for a meeting of the Quebec cabinet. “The propane supply is an issue and many small companies can no longer export.”
As the rail crisis entered its 21st day, Fitzgibbon said he is getting daily updates from a host of small and medium-sized Quebec companies on the effect it is having on their business.
The main issue now is the inability of Quebec firms to export as well as companies starting to run out of raw materials needed to feed production lines, Fitzgibbon said.
He said the federal government is also monitoring the impact of the blockades. Last week, Legault estimated the dispute is costing the Quebec economy $100 million a day.
“I think the federal government is as aware as we are of the impact on the Canadian economy,” Fitzgibbon said. “They’re not stupid. I am sure they have a Plan B. They probably won’t tell the population. I hope they do (have a Plan B) because this could never end.”
Christopher Curtis of the Montreal Gazette contributed to this report.