A Manitoba judge has put aboriginal protesters on notice that any further rail line blockades will most certainly end in arrest -- and could possibly lead to violence.
The strong warning from Queen's Bench Justice Don Bryk came Thursday as he extended an existing court injunction that was ignored last week without consequences. A daylong protest halted road and rail traffic at Highway 16 near the Trans-Canada Highway just west of Portage la Prairie. No arrests were made as RCMP chose to allow the blockade to end on its own, despite Bryk's order to remove the protesters.
Organizer Terry Nelson was back in court Thursday to fight the CN application. The former chief of the Roseau River First Nation told Bryk he couldn't promise future compliance.
"It would be better if these confrontations could be avoided because confrontations have the potential to escalate and when confrontations escalate, there is potential for violence and harm," said Bryk.
Nelson told court the railway is on Treaty 1 land and has been "stolen" from his people. A century ago, the track sliced through a large Ojibwa settlement at that location, carving up the community that later formed the three First Nations of Long Plain, Sandy Bay and Swan Lake.
"There's no question... we are the owners of this land," said Nelson. "Canada is obligated to ensure the conditions of the treaty are met."
Bryk agreed to extend the temporary injunction until Feb. 19, which will give Nelson and lawyers for CN time to file additional materials for what is expected to be a prolonged legal battle. Per the court order, protesters are not allowed to convene on any CN rail lines in Manitoba.
CN wants a permanent order made, but Nelson has vowed to fight such a move.
"I recognize the positions that are being advanced on behalf of aboriginal people in this country and I recognize the issues are complex," said Bryk. "But (CN) is entitled to continue to do their business without interference."
Last week's protest saw a small group of people form a human blockade on the tracks. RCMP diverted traffic from the area, deciding they would take away the protesters' "audience" rather than arrest them. Participants said the blockade was intended to send a message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour the treaties.