Premier François Legault says the presence of weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles, is the reason provincial police have not yet dismantled a rail blockade in the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake, south of Montreal.
“We effectively have information that confirms there are weapons — AK-47s, to name them,” in Kahnawake, Legault told reporters in Quebec City Wednesday afternoon.
The premier did not specify whether he was referring to weapons located at the blockade itself or in the community at large.
Kahnawake Peacekeepers, who police the Mohawk territory, say Legault’s claim is baseless and “irresponsible,” saying there are no more guns on the reserve than anywhere else in the region.
A Quebec Superior Court justice issued an injunction Tuesday ordering an end to all blockades of Canadian Pacific Railway lines in the province.
The first Quebec blockade went up in Kahnawake on Feb. 8, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia who oppose the construction of a liquid natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory.
Legault said the Sûreté du Québec is “working on a plan to dismantle the barricades.”
“They are speaking with the Peacekeepers, but obviously with people who are armed, it’s delicate.”
He said he does not want the injury of a police officer to rest on his conscience, and given the difficulty of the situation, he understands why the SQ “is taking its time to prepare an intervention.”
The SQ’s communications team appeared to be caught off-guard by Legault’s remarks. When contacted by CBC News, a police spokesperson asked for time to provide a response, but still was not ready with a comment when contacted again an hour later.
And in Ottawa, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said his office is aware of Legault’s comments but has no information about assault rifles.
“The police are very well prepared to deal with difficult situations,” Blair said. “We trust the judgment and discretion of local and provincial police to ensure the safety of their officers and of Canadians.”
‘Nobody here in Kahnawake wants another 1990’
Both elected and traditional leaders in Kahnawake say their own police force, the Mohawk Peacekeepers, has sole jurisdiction in the territory.
The Peacekeepers indicated earlier this week they will not enforce an injunction.
The force’s communications officer, Const. Kyle Zachary, said Wednesday the Peacekeepers have not received an injunction yet, and they are not sure when they will.
Zachary said it is “irresponsible” of the premier to be talking about guns.
“We’re trying to have the situation come to an end peacefully, and that kind of statement is counter to that,” he said.
“To say that we all have AK-47s, not only is that untrue, it’s dangerous.
“It’s only going to exacerbate the situation. There are firearms on the territory, but there’s no more than what are in Châteauguay or in Montreal. We have responsible gun owners just as anywhere else.”
He said nobody in or out of Kahnawake wants “another 1990,” referring to the Oka Crisis — a 78-day standoff between a group of Mohawk protesters and provincial police as well as the Canadian military that was triggered by an SQ raid in which a police officer was killed.
‘Promote a peaceful resolution,’ urges AFNQL chief
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations’ regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, said Legault “is making very dangerous and offensive comments by suggesting the presence of weapons in Kahnawake.”
“He certainly did not consider the consequences of his words for community members who live with the memories of 30 years ago on a daily basis,” said Picard.
He encouraged the premier “to be more careful on his public outbursts and instead promote a peaceful resolution.”