Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Detour defuses blockade

First Nation protest slows traffic, but drivers shrug off delays

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Drivers on the TransCanada Highway west of Portage la Prairie had an extra half hour tacked onto their travel times Saturday due to a First Nations blockade.

The peaceful protest turned into a full-scale blockade when a protester stood in front of a travelling semi-truck and momentarily refused to move.

The protest was without incident up to that point. While Sandy Bay First Nation had threatened to blockade the TransCanada for much of Saturday, an arrangement was struck with RCMP to let protestors occupy one eastbound lane, while slowed traffic used the other eastbound lane.

After the protester stood in front of the truck, RCMP began rerouting traffic around the protest, closing both eastbound and westbound lanes on the TransCanada around the junction of Highway 16. The closures started at about noon.

Protest organizer Tricia Beaulieu said the incident wasn't dangerous and felt RCMP overreacted. She said the protester only stood in front of the semi-truck for a few seconds.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Miles Hiebert would only say protesters and vehicles were coming too close to each other.

Sandy Bay First Nation is protesting the omnibus budget legislation, Bill C45, which the First Nation says infringes on aboriginal rights, and a lack of jobs for First Nations people.

Mike Guilford, traveling home to Alberta after visiting his ailing mother in Ontario, said the detour took about half an hour down a narrow, slippery road. He didn't begrudge the aboriginal people their protest but said there are jobs out there if people are willing to move. "I've relocated three times already" to take jobs, said Guilford, 24, who now works in the Alberta oil patch.

Harmandeeb Brar, a long-distance trucker forced to take the detour, didn't begrudge Sandy Bay its protest either. However, the gravel grid roads used as a detour "were all icy and everyone was going slow," he said.

Fabien Peters, a former resident of Long Plains First Nation who works in Portage la Prairie, tried to get close to see the protest but couldn't. He did not necessarily agree with the protest, even though he is originally from a reserve. "I kind of don't get what they're fighting for. A lot of people don't like change," said Peters, who hasn't lived on a reserve in 25 years.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 16, 2012 A3

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