May 9, 2007
CN Rail has launched a lawsuit against Mohawk protesters who blocked a major Ontario rail corridor for more than a day last month, disrupting freight and passenger traffic.
The land dispute protest near Deseronto that began in the early hours of April 20 disrupted freight between Toronto and Montreal. The disruption blocked the transport of freight worth more than $100 million, said spokesman Mark Hallman.
"We have launched an action to recover the costs associated with the blockade," Hallman confirmed Tuesday. "This represents the first time that CN has served suit for damages arising from a First Nations blockade of its tracks."
CN estimated that about 22 freight trains travel the Toronto-Montreal route every day, but did not specify how much it is asking for in damages.
Hallman said that as part of its action, the company is seeking an extension of a court order that ended the blockade. That extension would ban future blockades.
Shawn Brant, the main spokesman for the protesters from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory on Lake Ontario's Bay of Quinte, is named in the CN lawsuit, which also includes a blockade that people from the reserve staged last year on the same rail line.
"We've sort of looked at this as being a warning to other First Nations communities across the country as well as ourselves that they're quite willing to make our miserable lives more miserable," he said.
The lawsuit also names the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory band council and several other people from their community.
Chief R. Donald Maracle said the council had nothing to do with the blockade and will ask CN lawyers to remove it from the lawsuit.
The rail blockade disrupted both freight and Via Rail passenger service along the Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal rail corridors for about 30 hours.
The protest, which ended when CN served the protesters with a court injunction, was part of an ongoing protest that members have been maintaining for months over privately owned land near Deseronto that the Tyendinaga Mohawks claim is theirs.
Brant faces a number of charges related to the blockade, including mischief. He turned himself in to police on May 3, but has been released on bail.
The band council is in talks with a federally appointed negotiator regarding the land claim, but the protesters say those are proceeding too slowly.