Caledonia residents and commuters who cheered the news that Indigenous land defenders had moved off the Highway 6 bypass will be waiting a while before they can actually use the road.
Haldimand OPP spokesperson Const. Rod LeClair told The Spectator it will be “weeks” until the bypass — which has been closed since late October — can reopen.
Inspectors from the provincial transport ministry assessed the road’s condition Wednesday, accompanied by police.
“At this point, repairs needed to ensure the roadway is safe for traffic will take weeks,” LeClair said.
Crews will have to repair trenches dug across the bypass overnight on Oct. 22 by supporters of the land defenders after an encounter with police earlier that day.
“All of this was about safety — to be able to keep people on the ground as safe as possible,” said Skyler Williams, spokesperson for the group that has occupied a Caledonia construction site since July 19, claiming the land on McKenzie Road as unceded Haudenosaunee territory.
Williams said last week the MTO and police now have “full access” to the bypass. But LeClair said the ministry also needs access to a bridge over the bypass before the road can safely reopen.
“Significant repairs will be required on the Sixth Line overpass in addition to the Highway 6 bypass,” LeClair said. “Demonstrators continue to prevent access to the overpass. As a result, there will be a further delay of the safe reopening of the roadways.”
That was news to Williams.
“The OPP have not communicated any specific concerns about Sixth Line to our camp,” he said. “Any workers are welcome to complete work. However, no one with weapons, including police, are allowed on site.”
Last week, land defenders returned construction equipment that was already on the bypass in October thanks to unrelated roadwork. But some heavy machinery remained parked on Argyle Street Thursday morning, where land defenders dug a new trench across the road after moving their barricade further south.
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt said he was optimistic that some barricades coming down means talks between the elected and hereditary leadership on Six Nations are bearing fruit.
At the same time, the mayor said there must be consequences for those who block and tear up roads.
“I’m hopeful we can see some positive news come from some form of unity on Six Nations that will allow us to get to a dialogue that these injunctions will no longer be needed,” Hewitt said. “That being said, we cannot continue to allow any form of protest to disrupt roads (and) property when things don’t go their way. Those that have destroyed infrastructure or roads or stolen equipment need to be held responsible and accountable for that.”
Since early August, police have charged some 40 people with breaching court injunctions ordering demonstrators to leave the McKenzie site and clear away all street barricades, a tactic Williams described as “nuisance arrests to dissuade support” for land defenders.
LeClair said the OPP is “aware” of efforts between Ottawa and Six Nations to find a political solution to the stalemate, and that the police service “has no role to play in resolving the land dispute issue.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator