Blockade on key highway is partly liftedCANADIAN PRESS
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KAZI STASTNA OF THE GAZETTE
GRAND REMOUS – Part of a crucial Quebec highway was reopened last night following a day-long blockade by armed aboriginals protesting against forest management by the province.
The Sûreté du Québec said the northbound lane of Highway Mont Tremblant 117, about 300 kilometres northwest of Montreal Montreal, was reopened about 9:15. It was to be used alternately for north and southbound traffic within the La Vérendrye provincial park.
The southbound lane remained closed last night, blocked by two teepees and two trailers, said SQ Constable Mélanie Larouche.
Between 25 and 50 people set up the blockade around 5:30 a.m. on the heavily used highway, the only route between the Laurentian and Abitibi-Témiscamingue regions.
The protesters say the Quebec government reneged on a verbal agreement that ended earlier protests by granting local aboriginals living outside reserves the right to harvest trees.
“The protest is about the government of Quebec, the Liberals, lying to us,” said Guillaume Carle, chief of the recently formed Confederation of Aboriginal People of Canada.
“As soon as we lifted the barricades (last time) they turned on us,” Carle said in an interview.
Two vans, a pair of teepees, heavy equipment, barrels and logs were set up across the highway, about 70 kilometres north of the nearest town, Grand Remous. The stretch between Grand Remous and Val d’Or, the next closest municipality about 300 kilometres north, is used by about 1,800 vehicles a day on average, Transport Quebec said.
“People become very nervous very fast as soon as the road is cut off because there is only one route with direct access between Abitibi-Témiscamingue and the south,” said André Gilbert, deputy mayor of Val d’Or, about 520 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
“Ever since the trains stopped being used (as a mode of transport) and the majority of companies here don’t have warehouses to store goods like they used to, everything – gasoline, food, newspapers, construction materials – comes by truck.”
Airplane mechanic Philippe Lambert of Amos, 60 kilometres northwest of Val d’Or, receives parts everyday from Montreal via the 117 but had to make do without several orders yesterday.
“If I don’t get a part, I can’t work,” he said. “It’s a drag – for the customers, too,” he said.
The only practical alternate route is Highway 101, which runs through northern Ontario and adds about two hours to the drive. (The other – much longer – detour is via Highway 113 east toward Lac St. Jean and south to Quebec City). In the event of a longer blockade, the necessary detour would add significant costs to the transport of essential goods to the region, Gilbert said.
The 117 also provides a vital link to Northern Quebec and to western Canada. Many of the trucks loading cargo off ships in Sept Îles en route to Calgary use the highway to bypass Toronto and shave about 100 kilometres off their trip, Gilbert said.
Police set up a secure perimeter about 200 metres from the blockade after some protesters were spotted with hunting rifles at the blockade site, about 70 kilometres north of the nearest town, Grand Remous.
Carle said Quebec has allowed rampant clear-cut logging in the region but left aboriginals out of the planning and the economic benefit from forestry activity.
“We’re being robbed,” he said as he drove to the site of the protest yesterday.
Calls to newsprint giant Abitibi-Consolidated weren’t immediately returned yesterday
Carle said protesters are also upset about living conditions for aboriginals across Canada who live outside reserves.
“No electricity, no heat, no water,” said Carle, who said his group has about 6,000 members across Canada. “The conditions are unacceptable.”
Last month, the protesters picketed the office of the Quebec minister of natural resources.
Carle said the group wants rights to log in the region as well as a say in overall forestry planning.
He said the barrier would remain on the highway until the province sends someone to negotiate a proper agreement.