Four arrests and one hospitalization later, the people of Barriere Lake still cannot believe the brutality they faced at the hands of the Surete du Quebec when their barricade on Highway 117 was violently dismantled October 6.
“We are still going to be making noise,” said Michael Thusky, a Barriere Lake spokesperson.
On October 6 at 6:30 am, 75 community members, along with 20 non-Native supporters, set up a barricade on the 117 near Grand-Remous, where the highway joins du Lac Rapide Road in La Verandrye wildlife reserve. In the crowd, there were 44 children and several Elders from Barriere Lake.
By 4:30 that afternoon, it was all over.
In a move that has since been chastised by chiefs across Canada and various human-rights organizations, SQ riot police descended upon the peaceful protesters and removed them from the barricade with the use of tear gas, veritable torture techniques and other forms of physical aggression.
Most notable were the SQ’s use of pain compliance techniques on protestors who had locked themselves into makeshift lock boxes comprised of barrels and PVC tubes. With blankets thrown over their heads, police applied painful pressure to the protestors’ skulls to forcibly remove them from the devices.
Two adult women were arrested during the protest – Yvonne Ratt, 59, and Deborah Jerome, 27, who was five months pregnant at the time. The two other arrestees were minors.
After being hit by a tear-gas cannister in the chest, one man was sent to the
hospital for treatment the morning following the barricade dismantling while a 17-year-old handicapped youth was treated in a local clinic for problems related to tear-gas inhalation.
The fact that there were so many children and Elders in the crowd had no bearing on the SQ’s tactical choices came as a surprise to Thusky. In the past, Barriere Lake residents have set up other blockades, but they had never before seen such police aggression.
“We didn’t expect this brutality from the SQ, tear gassing our community members in front of the children,” said Thusky recalling how what happened at this blockade played out so differently than the community’s first back during the Oka Crisis in 1990.
“We blocked the highway during the Oka Crisis for 24 hours and there was no tear gas at all. Then we did blockades on forestry companies and there was no violence. Nobody expected to have this kind of brutality from the SQ,” said Thusky.
In the wake of the protest, the people of Barriere Lake are a little worse for wear. The goal of the protest was to try and initiate contact with the federal and provincial governments in the hopes of seeing their 1991 trilateral agreement implemented so that the community could benefit from the natural resource sharing and hook up to Hydro-Quebec’s grid but the contact is yet to happen. Barriere Lake is still one of the poorest Aboriginal communities in Canada, living in developing-world-like conditions in substandard homes powered by a generator.
Though the community has been focused on gathering resources from the bush for the long winter ahead, the memory of October 6 haunts many community members, particularly the children who Thusky describes as being both frightened and disliking their treatment on that day.
Despite this, according to Thusky, the community is not going to give up. Instead of being disheartened by their experience, many are finding themselves even more determined now. While the hunting and gathering is going down, so are consultations and planning sessions to raise awareness for the cause.
Since the blockade was met by such brutal police action, an Ontario chiefs’ organization has taken a stand on behalf of the people of Barriere Lake by sending a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and Quebec Public Security Minister Jacques P Dupuis.
The letter itself, signed by Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse, with the Chiefs of Ontario, condemned the SQ for its “approach” in dismantling the barricade. Citing the incident in Ipperwash, Ontario when protestor Dudley George was shot dead by the OPR the Chiefs’ letter served to remind the political leaders of the lessons learned there.
The letter also stated, “Resorting to aggressive police action is clearly regrettable and further does not address the root causes of this situation.”
Though there is no clear resolution on its way for the people of Barriere Lake, the Nation will continue to follow this story as updates become available.