By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
As members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation enter their fourth day of blocking a railway line running through their reserve in Sarnia, Ont., the mayor of the city is now questioning why Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t just meet with First Nation leaders, the main demand of the protesters.
The Aamjiwnaang protesters say they’re acting in solidarity with Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence who is in her 14th day of a hunger strike in Ottawa to force a meeting.
“I don’t understand why Stephen Harper can’t unite Canadians by saying ‘yes, we will meet at the highest level possible and talk about these issues.’ There is a solution there and it’s not a difficult one. That’s the frustration,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley
Bradley said municipal officials have no intention of shutting the blockade down through force because they don’t want to impair relations between the City of Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang First Nation, which sits within the boundaries of the city.
“This is an issue between the First Nations and the federal government and the community and the police service is in the middle. Our concerns are we have a very good relationship,” said Bradley. “CN (Rail) wants to ship products and get that line back open and we’re saying you’re going to have to live with some disruption until we can resolve this issue. Our long-term relationship is much more important to us as a community.”
The blockade began Friday and won’t stop until Harper gives in to the demands of Spence, said blockade spokesman Ron Plain.
Plain said they are disrupting shipments to dozens of oil refineries in an area known as Chemical Valley.
He said CN representatives came to them Sunday trying to negotiate a closure of the blockade by promising to write Prime Minister Harper and urging him to meet with First Nation leaders.
“We made them blink. They came to us (Sunday) to get us off the tracks. CN and companies of Chemical Valley are willing to write a letter to Harper telling him they want Harper to meet with Chief Spence,” he said. “Tha’s all well and good but until the meeting takes place we won’t consider taking it down. But the fact that we made them blink tells you something.”
CN Rail spokesman Jim Feeny said they are calling on the local and federal governments to stop the “illegal” blockade.
“Some plants are facing shutdowns if service is not resumed. It could potentially affect the supply of various products, including propane,” said Feeny.
Plain said they have moved their blockade once after being served with a court injunction by CN police but now believe they are in a position where the courts can’t touch them.
“The CN police came to the first site we were at and handed us an injunction to have us removed. There is several sites where these tracks cross reserve roads and there is one road in particular where there was no agreement ever made with the Indian agents over the road because the road didn’t exist when the Indian agents were around,” he said. “They don’t have permission to cross that road so that’s where we moved the blockade to on the second day and we have been there since. They can’t issue an injunction to that piece of road because they don’t have legal crossing on that road.”
Plain said the crossings were negotiated back in the 1960s and because Chemical Valley grew so fast there are some crossings CN doesn’t have permission to cross.
“We have several of these holes in their legislation because of Chemical Valley, because it was built so fast,” he said.
Bradley said he hadn’t heard of this and was going to look into it. He was told there is a court date scheduled for Thursday to deal with the court injunction. As far as he knows police have the right to stop the blockade but will not.
Plain also said they’ve been told their blockade is causing $5 million dollars a day in economic disruption but Bradley said while there is disruption he hasn’t heard of that number.
Feeny said CN Rail is in a legal position to shut the blockade down and while there is some economic affect it’s too early for CN to say how much per day.
Meanwhile, Aamjiwnaang members were also planning to shutdown Highway 402 and the Blue Water Bridge Monday halting traffic across the United States border.