TORONTO - Blockades that cut off highways and vital rail lines won't stop the province from negotiating with aboriginal protesters to resolve outstanding land claims and end a two-year occupation, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.
As barricades were dismantled in the southern Ontario town of Caledonia following several days of escalating protests and fears of violence, McGuinty said he won't call off negotiations with the Six Nations protesters unless he's told to by the provincial police and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"The principal negotiations, as you well know, take place between the federal government and the Six Nations community," McGuinty said Tuesday.
"If at some point in time, the OPP advise us it was in the interests of public safety that we end these negotiations, and if Prime Minister Harper also agreed that he should end his negotiations, then that's obviously something that we would have to consider."
The Ontario Conservatives are accusing the Liberals of encouraging lawlessness by tolerating the recent escalation of aboriginal protests.
Six Nations protesters blocked off the Highway 6 bypass over the weekend to show support for fellow aboriginal protesters who were staging their own blockade over a land claim in the eastern Ontario town of Deseronto, near Belleville.
Provincial police removed the Deseronto roadblock Monday after the protest escalated on the weekend. Two officers were injured and a cruiser window was smashed after police arrested Mohawk leader Shawn Brant at a traffic stop, prompting his supporters to rush to the scene and clash with police.
Conservatives are calling on the Liberals to break off talks with Six Nations protesters - aimed at settling their land claims and ending a two-year occupation of a former housing development in Caledonia - until the protests stop.
Even if OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino or Harper recommended such an ultimatum the province would be reluctant to call of the talks, McGuinty said.
"They'd have to make a pretty compelling argument because the Ipperwash report specifically said, keep talking," McGuinty said. "The only way to make real, lasting and substantive progress is to keep talking."
Although the town's mayor feared the renewed blockades would spark violent clashes between protesters and frustrated residents, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant said people's patience has paid off.
Peace has been restored and negotiations continue, he said.
"Obviously it's very frustrating for residents and I want to commend those who have exercised and allowed cooler heads to prevail in this case," said Bryant, adding the Caledonia blockades were fuelled by rumour and misinformation.
"There was a misunderstanding as to what was transpiring (in Deseronto) . . . There were rumours circulating around the communities about what was happening with the OPP that just weren't true."