Premier Bernard Landry called it “the peace of the brave,” but the signing of the Agreement between the Crees and Quebec in Waskaganish Feb. 7 was marred by scuffles and two vigorous arrests by police from six Eeyou Istchee communities who erected a wall of security around the ceremony.
The first to be arrested was former Waskaganish Chief Henry Diamond, who approached the head table and accused both Quebec Premier Bernard Landry and Cree Grand Chief Ted Moses of lying to the Cree people.
Police say Diamond was arrested on charges of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. He was released later that day.
Police would only say he caused a disturbance at the front and had to be escorted out. During the escort Diamond allegedly told police officers he was going to resist.
“I was surprised at what happened,” Diamond told the Nation. “I didn’t threaten anybody.” Diamond said he only wanted to ask some questions, but, “They (police) grabbed me and started pushing me around. I couldn’t just let that happen. I went there to talk about some of the things that the people weren’t told.” It took a few officers to take him out of the building. Diamond suffered rug burns to the forehead when he was thrown to the floor during his arrest.
Diamond, an elderly man, was bleeding from the head when he was allowed back on his feet and escorted to the jail.
Diamond says that in other parts of Canada, First Nations worry that the Crees have signed away their rights. And he isn’t repentant about his protest.
When asked if he was a part of a group or if this was a planned action Diamond said that no one asked him to do what he did or used him in any way. “I’m glad I did what I did,” said Diamond, “I didn’t want to disrespect the people, but I wasn’t allowed to talk.” The second person to be arrested was Chisasibi Band Councillor Larry House. Police say he was trying to access an area reserved for certain personnel. “When he pushed an officer, that’s when we arrested him,” said the Waskaganish police. He was arrested under local Waskaganish mischief by-laws. Police have charged him with impeding pedestrian traffic, which carries a fine of $25.
“All I was doing was trying to get into the press conference,” House said. “I didn’t know these things were that tightly controlled.” House says the police didn’t even seem to know what they were going to charge him with at first, but came up with that charge after a lot of thinking. When asked about how he felt about his arrest, House said, “In a way I didn’t mind, I felt it was symbolic about how things were being done in Eeyou Istchee.” House said that he would be looking at his legal options with a lawyer. He said police nearly popped his shoulder out while handcuffing his hands behind his back.
Waskaganish police wouldn’t initially confirm they had arrested anyone in conjunction with the signing ceremony.
The high levels of security have many people looking over their shoulders. Nation reporter Lindy Moar says he received a phone call from Grand Council Executive Director Bill Namagoose before the signing ceremony. Moar said Namagoose wanted to know about rumours a protest was planned for the ceremony, and quotes Namagoose as saying that Premier Landry wouldn’t sign if there was a protest.
Moar said he felt he was being set up and even phoned back Namagoose to ask him about the call. Namagoose replied that he was just worried.
During the signing Moar said he was shadowed by the police wherever he went. “Police were never more than ten feet from me all the time, even when I went for a cigarette,” said Moar. “I started feeling paranoid.” Johnny Trapper, Regional Police Coordinator, said that in addition to local officers, police came from Wemindji, Chisasibi, Eastmain, Nemaska and Waswanipi. Trapper said that there wasn’t a list of people to watch out for or any particular mandate given to the police before the signing. “As a police officer you prepare for events like this,” he said. “Making arrests aren’t some sort of a highlight for us. We are just there to provide a service for the community.”