01/23/2013 10:23 EST | Updated 03/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Idle No More: Stop Highway Blockades To Fort McMurray, Pleads First Nations Leader


FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. -- A First Nations leader has joined RCMP and fire officials in pleading with Idle No More protesters to refrain from staging blockades on the major highway into the oilsands' biggest city.

The open letter issued Tuesday was signed by RCMP Supt. M.R. Couture, Mikisew Creek Chief Steve Courtoreille and acting fire chief Darby Allen.

The letter says while all Canadians have the right to peaceful freedom of expression, officials must balance those rights with the need to maintain public safety.

It also says the actions of one or more individuals cannot be allowed to endanger the health and safety of other citizens.

Highway 63 near Fort McMurray, Alta., was blocked for about two hours on Dec. 20 and for brief periods of time on Jan. 10.

At a rally in Edmonton early in January, Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam suggested there could be large roadblocks on the highway if no progress was made in trying to secure talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the governor general.

Alberta Solicitor General Jonathan Denis has complained recently that some of the roadblocks set up by Idle No More protesters were not safe.

Denis said a blockade on Highway 2 near Edmonton put motorists, police and the demonstrators themselves at risk.

Denis said the provincial government has been deluged with phone calls from people who are worried about the safety of the blockades as well as traffic delays.

Denis said people in the province are free to hold peaceful political protests, but busy roads and highways are not the place to do it.

Idle No More protests across Canada have focused on recent changes the Harper government has made to environmental oversight.

The changes include redefining protections for fish and giving the federal cabinet new decision-making powers on resource development.

First Nations say the changes allow energy and mining companies to ignore their concerns and rush into resource extraction without properly accounting for harm to animal habitats.

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