A new wave of protests in support of those opposed to a pipeline project in B.C. hit the country Tuesday, dashing hopes that rail service would return to normal after police dismantled a blockade that had paralyzed much of the country’s rail traffic for weeks.
Blockades and protests took place across Canada, including in Toronto, where thousands of commuters were stymied during rush hour.
Canadian National Railway Co. served an injunction Monday night and again on Tuesday to protesters encamped on a railway in Hamilton. The protesters left late Tuesday evening. The encampment blocked GO train commuter traffic and CN freight trains as the dispute over the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline showed no signs of abating.
The regional transit agency Metrolinx said disruptions took place on or near three separate GO rail lines in Toronto during rush hour. Two of the incidents ended relatively quickly, but a third was being watched by staff to see whether it would be necessary to adjust service.
A handful of new blockades at Vancouver’s port and elsewhere also sprang up this week, after police on Monday arrested protesters and cleared a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont. CN restarted freight traffic hours after police arrested 10 people protesting in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the B.C. pipeline. CN declined to say whether trains were running through the area on Tuesday.
Police arrested 14 people beginning late Monday night who were blocking rail tracks near New Hazelton, B.C., the same line that was obstructed earlier this month, stopping trains in and out of the port of Prince Rupert.
Those arrested included Norman Stephens, a hereditary chief of the Gitxsan Nation, which neighbours Wet’suwet’en Nation.
“I was prepared to get arrested to show how Canada treats Indigenous people – that they [police] would come on to our unceded land and arrest us,” said Mr. Stephens, who is also known as Spookwx.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., faced with a two-week-old blockade south of Montreal on tracks that lead to the United States, said it has obtained a Quebec-wide injunction against all such rail protests after other attempted solutions failed.
“The blockade at Kahnawake has severed vital rail connections and severely impacted CP’s operations, customers and the broader economy. Outside of this blockade other ‘copycat’ blockades, including some not involving Indigenous peoples, have developed,” CP said.
The loss of rail transport has disrupted Canada’s manufacturing industries and harmed its international reputation as a reliable supplier and safe place to invest, said Bob Masterson, head of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada
“You’ve got closures, you’ve got imminent closures. Eighty per cent of what we make is exported and our customers don’t understand and don’t care” why supplies have been disrupted, he said, adding, “When you lose those customers, you’ve lost them forever."
Transport Minister Marc Garneau praised CP for allowing its main rival to use its tracks during the 18-day shutdown of CN’s key line between Montreal and Toronto. The agreement was not publicized at the time, but Mr. Garneau confirmed the arrangement Tuesday and said it helped ease some of the pressure in the network during the standoff near Belleville.
Mr. Garneau said the federal government has the power to force a rail company to allow other companies on its lines, but did not use that power in this situation, and instead suggested to the companies they should co-operate.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Tuesday that Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have been in discussions with the B.C. RCMP about a de-escalation plan for a community outpost. He said the federal ministers are “eager” to hear the results of these discussions, adding he believes there has been progress in efforts to secure a meeting with the chiefs.
“We are all aiming, every level of government is aiming for a peaceful resolution to this conflict,” Mr. Miller said in Ottawa.
Former MP Nathan Cullen, who was named as a provincial liaison with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in January, said Tuesday he is involved in communication between the leaders, the RCMP, the company and the federal and provincial governments. Mr. Cullen told The Globe and Mail he has witnessed a real effort to reach a resolution.
“Whether we get there or not is a separate issue,” he said. “It isn’t for a lack of effort.”
In Quebec, the Sherbrooke police moved quickly to clear a dozen student protesters who created a new blockade Tuesday. The province sought an injunction to clear a set of blockaded tracks it owns in Gaspé, in the far east of the province. The Canadian Pacific Railway obtained an injunction ordering protesters off its rails passing through Kahnawake, south of Montreal. The tracks also serve a commuter rail line.
Kenneth Deer, secretary of the Mohawk Nation of Kahanawake, called the injunction a provocation, saying enforcement of it would be a “big mistake.”
Dwayne Zacharie, chief of the Kahnawake Mohawk Peacekeepers, the police with jurisdiction over the protest site, told a community meeting Monday evening that they do not intend to enforce any injunction. “The Kahnawake Peacekeepers don’t have any interest in criminalizing people for standing up for our rights,” he told Kahnawake residents, according to the CBC.
Quebec Premier François Legault, who said rail blockades are costing the Quebec economy $100-million a day and has demanded the barricades come down, urged caution Monday. “Quebeckers have suffered enough. It’s time to act. It must be done properly, without violence,” he told reporters Tuesday. He added the government and the Sûreté du Québec provincial police are well aware Peacekeepers have jurisdiction.
“I’m old enough to remember Oka, we know some Mohawks are armed, we must be careful,” he added, referring to the three-month armed standoff in 1990 between Mohawks and the SQ and Canadian army.
With reports from Kristy Kirkup and Bill Curry in Ottawa, Les Perreaux in Montreal, Oliver Moore in Toronto