Protests prompted by first-nations frustration with the federal government flared in at least six provinces Wednesday.
The “day of action” began quietly, but by lunchtime police in Windsor blocked one of two access roads to the Ambassador Bridge, which is the major trade crossing from southern Ontario to the United States, as protesters massed. A spokesman said the closing should not last long as natives were soon moving to a nearby parking lot.
A CN rail spokesman confirmed reports that protesters had blocked the main line in Manitoba, near Portage la Prairie. “We have stopped train traffic in the immediate area, and have obtained a court injunction,” Jim Feeny said.
A small group of people identified as members of the American Indian Movement were photographed blocking the CN rail line in Manitoba. Some members of the AIM, a militant group involved in the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, do not recognize the U.S.-Canada border.
Also Wednesday, VIA passenger trains in both directions were stopped by a blockade in the Marysville area, between Belleville and Kingston, where Tyendinaga Mohawks had pledged to block the line. Passengers whose itineraries require them to pass through the site of the blockade will be accommodated with ground transportation, VIA said in a statement.
The demonstrations were only a few of many planned for across the country. According to witnesses and news reports, protests were being held and roads blocked Wednesday in locations from coast to coast.
Earlier Wednesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty voiced concern that aboriginal protests could hurt the Canadian economy. Noting that real GDP in Canada is only expected to grow around two per cent this year, efforts should be made to avoid disruptions.
"This is not a time to have even more challenges to the Canadian economy," he said, while taking questions from reporters at an event in Ottawa. "Having said that, we're doing relatively well in the world, but additional challenges are not desirable. In terms of your question about the rule of law, local police forces are responsible for local law enforcement in Canada."
Disruptions were being felt in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick. Among the roads being targeted are the border-crossing bridge in Sault Ste. Marie, the Pat Bay Highway in Victoria and the Westmoreland Bridge in Fredericton.
The Trans-Canada Highway was closed for about an hour at Nipigon, Ont. when 400 protesters marched on it.
There were a handful of protests in Alberta on Wednesday, with the largest in Edmonton. Protesters there briefly closed a major highway into the city, before opening one lane. They left at 3 p.m., reopening the highway after about two hours.
Another blockade took place along Highway 55 near Cold Lake, a small city in eastern Alberta that's near the southern edge of the oil sands, and is home to a major Imperial Oil facility. RCMP said traffic was slowed, but not blocked.
No protests, however, took place in Fort McMurray, the heart of oil sands development. Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said they're holding off on further blockades while first nations leaders in the region ask industry to join them in pressing for the repeal of the contentious bills.
In Quebec, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, north of Ottawa, promised to close Highway 117 “to draw attention to forestry operations that they oppose on their lands.”
About 150 people rallied today outside the residence of New Brunswick Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas.The group banged drums, sang and carried signs as they walked from the St. Mary’s First Nation and marched through Fredericton. St. Mary’s Chief Candace Paul says they presented Nicholas with three letters that express their concerns with the federal government’s recently passed omnibus budget legislation and its effect on the environment.
Norm Hardisty, the Chief of the Moose Cree First Nation, brought his people from the shores of James Bay to Ottawa to demonstrate. On Tuesday they visited with Theresa Spence, the Attawapiskat chief who has been protesting on an island in the Ottawa River. And on Wednesday they held a dance in the middle of a busy downtown intersection, blocking cars and buses.