June 12, 2009
Ontario bridge protest remains `volatile'
By Jorge Barrera, Canwest News Service
A heavy police presence remains around a bridge in eastern Ontario after Ontario Provincial Police officers arrested about a dozen people Friday morning following a clash with native protesters who have blocked the bridge since Sunday, the OPP said.
About 40 OPP officers were involved with the protesters at about 6:30 a.m. in a ``hand-to-hand'' struggle to clear the Skyway Bridge, which spans the Bay of Quinte about 200 kilometres east of Toronto, said OPP Insp. Pat Finnegan. The bridge connects Tyendinaga territory with Prince Edward County.
A group of Mohawks from Tyendinaga First Nation occupied the bridge last Sunday and vowed to stay there until they felt the government had engaged ``in meaningful dialogue'' with the leadership of the Mohawks in Akwesasne, Ont. The Canada-U.S. border crossing on the Akwesasne reserve, about 100 kilometres west of Montreal, has been shut for nearly two weeks. The federal border agency shut the crossing after Akwesasne leaders said they would not allow armed guards at the border post.
Finnegan said 13 people were arrested Friday, including native activist Shawn Brant, but that the situation remained volatile.
An OPP helicopter was circling the site Friday and an OPP boat was in the vicinity while a heavy police presence remained around the bridge, which was retaken by a group of Mohawk protesters following the arrests.
``We are trying to be as respectful as possible given the circumstances,'' said Finnegan. ``That bridge is going to have to be reopened today.''
A protester on the scene said in an interview by cellphone that there were at least 40 men and women on the bridge, discussing what to do next.
The woman did not want to give her name.
Finnegan said two protesters were injured in the operation, including one who hurt a shoulder and another who received a cut on the head.
Finnegan said there were concerns that if the bridge remained closed during the weekend there could have been clashes between the protesters and people from Tyendinaga or the surrounding non-native communities.
``To allow it to go on would have resulted in someone getting hurt,'' he said.
Finnegan said Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief Donald Maracle asked the OPP to help the Tyendinaga Mohawk Police clear the bridge.
Two OPP units were on the scene, totalling more than 80 officers, said Finnegan.
Protesters are expected to face charges of mischief.
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