In June 1990, a conflict arose over the proposed expansion of a golf course on lands claimed by the Mohawks. The Sûreté de Québec (Quebec Provincial Police) attempted to deal with the situation, but long-standing hostilities between the Mohawks and the force precluded the possibility of a quick resolution of the problem.

Masked Mohawk warriors, armed with automatic weapons, erected barricades on the golf course, and a stalemate followed. On 11 July, the Sûreté de Québec attempted to storm the Mohawk positions, and a police officer was killed in the sporadic gunfire that erupted during the assault. Within hours, another Mohawk group at Châteauguay blockaded the Mercier Bridge that connected the island of Montreal with the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The standoff continued into August. On 7 August 1990, the premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, made use of the National Defence Act and requested military support from the federal government. He officially requisitioned the army to establish "public security" on 17 August 1990.

Once the military authorities receive a request for assistance, they respond with whatever force they judge necessary. The military is present, however, only to support the provincial justice officials. The latter remain ultimately responsible for the restoration of order and must bear the responsibility for any actions they direct the military authorities to carry out. The military authorities still retain responsibility for how they carry them out and must be prepared to justify any force used in executing their duties.

In this case, General John de Chastelaine, the Chief of the Defence Staff, responded with decisive action. The 5e Brigade Mécanisée (5th Mechanized Brigade), based at Valcartier, near Quebec City, but which included the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment from CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick, mobilized quickly and moved to contain the Mohawks at the Mercier Bridge and Oka. Premier Bourassa asked the army to remove the barricades on 27 August 1990. With a cautious blend of negotiation and the implied threat that the presence of armed troops provided, the army cleared the Mercier Bridge. Once that task had been accomplished, the troops turned their attention to the barricades at Oka. Here, the carefully orchestrated show of force even included 105mm artillery howitzers and Leopard tanks.

At the Oka barricades, the Mohawk Warriors subjected the soldiers of the Royal Canadian Regiment and Le Royal 22e Régiment (R22eR) to provocative posturing and a constant stream of verbal abuse. However, the Canadian troops maintained their composure, and, in the following weeks, the troops steadily eroded the Mohawk defensive perimeter around Oka.

The troops employed the skills they had acquired during years of United Nations peacekeeping missions. As during peacekeeping activities overseas, these essential abilities included, of course, normal combat skills. Indeed, the media knew at the time that troops of the R22eR were patrolling inside the Oka perimeter at night, incursions that occasional led to "confrontations" with those inside. The troops were careful, however, not to use publicly any methods that could be interpreted as provocative while they removed the barricades and slowly forced the Mohawk warriors back. Over time, these tactics broke down the Mohawks' will to continue. This process demonstrates a basic truth about the nature of successful peacekeeping that is not widely understood. These actions are not founded, as is commonly believed, on some "new age" ability to hypnotize a belligerent into pacification, but on credible military deterrence. Successful peacekeeping demands taking a consistent stand that convinces the parties involved that you, the peacekeeper, have both the will and the physical means to enforce your position. In this case, it meant convincing the Oka belligerents that you would not rest until they submitted to the rule of law. Finally, an agreement was reached between Mohawk leaders and Quebec provincial authorities. The crisis ended on 26 September 1990.

 

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