May 27, 2020

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Amnesty International backs Keeyask protestors

(Courtesy of Fox Lake Cree Nation)</p><p>Demonstrators from Fox Lake are seen blocking the south access road to the Keeyask generating-station construction site Monday evening.</p>

(Courtesy of Fox Lake Cree Nation)

Demonstrators from Fox Lake are seen blocking the south access road to the Keeyask generating-station construction site Monday evening.

Global human rights advocates are monitoring the COVID-19 blockade at Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask megaproject, as RCMP prepare to formally present protesters with a court injunction.

"Amnesty International is calling on Manitoba Hydro to respect the rights of First Nations in northern Manitoba by complying with their request to restrict access to the Keeyask project," says a statement from the group.

Amnesty’s Indigenous rights adviser, Ana Collins, said First Nations hold title to the land the work camp is on.

"These communities have an inherent responsibility and right to control access into their territories to protect their communities from COVID-19 and prevent unsustainable pressure on health-care systems in rural and remote areas," Collins wrote.

Last month, Hydro convinced provincial health authorities to allow a new batch of workers to rotate in to the site, replacing 512, with as many as 1,200 workers. That’s despite a ban on travel north of the 53rd parallel that was issued in mid-April because of the pandemic.

Fox Lake Cree Nation and Tataskweyak Cree Nation have put up blockades at the site near Gillam. On Monday, a judge issued an injunction that allows the RCMP to arrest anyone who blocks access to the work camp.

Mounties notified the local bands they would arrive Wednesday evening to present the injunction, but said they’ll only arrest people if safety is at risk.

The RCMP took the rare move of issuing a statement to refute rumours they would arrest chiefs on Wednesday.

Protesters at the blockade told the Free Press they’d seen at least one helicopter fly from the vicinity of the Gillam airport to the Keeyask site, raising speculation Hydro is evading the blockage by flying in workers. The utility did not respond when asked whether that’s happening.

— Dylan Robertson

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