The RCMP are offering to move a temporary post in northern British Columbia to a nearby town, a development the federal government hopes will defuse anger among First Nation chiefs and spur a negotiated end to blockades across the country.
Hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en Nation opposed to a natural-gas pipeline going through their traditional territories had asked the RCMP to move out of the area before they would meet with federal and provincial ministers.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government is “very hopeful” the RCMP’s decision will satisfy the protesters’ demands and help to restore halted rail service, end temporary layoffs of rail employees and bring about a peaceful resolution.
“The condition that people said was the reason for the barricades has now been met,” he said.
Some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the passage of a $6.6-billion natural gas pipeline through traditional territory on its way from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat on the coast, but the project has received support from elected band members.
Mr. Blair said Thursday the RCMP make all their own operational decisions but added the force has made a “very sound” decision in the goal of peacekeeping.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing increasing political pressure this week to provide specifics on what the federal government is doing to address the issue and what he calls “unacceptable” disruptions, shutdowns and layoffs.
Mr. Trudeau held a conference call with premiers on Thursday evening to discuss the issue. The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Mr. Trudeau highlighted the need for Canada’s railway system to be fully functional, adding the government is looking at options to resolve the “current interruptions given the impact on our economy.”
“The Prime Minister spoke with the Premiers about the importance of ending the blockades as quickly as possible and reaching a peaceful and lasting resolution, in a way that builds trust and respect among all parties involved,” it said.
One of the Wetʼsuwetʼen Nation hereditary chiefs said they not only want the RCMP off their territory, they expect Coastal GasLink to remove its workers too. Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said progress is being made, while reminding supporters to remain peaceful.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser are seeking a meeting with Wetʼsuwetʼen Nation hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline project. But Na’moks also said his counterparts won’t meet with cabinet ministers in Ottawa.
The company responsible for the pipeline issued a statement Thursday in support of the RCMP’s proposal to move its regional operations to the town of Houston.
“Coastal GasLink continues to seek a negotiated resolution to the issues outlined by the Hereditary Chiefs,” the company said, adding the project will provide long-lasting benefits to the Wet’suwet’en people.
For their part, some hereditary chiefs are expected to meet Friday morning with representatives of the Mohawk Nation in Ontario who have also erected blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en chiefs. In Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, a handful of protesters were at the blockade as it entered its 15th day.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who met with members of the Mohawk Nation over the weekend, said Thursday he and Ms. Bennett are available to join the meetings on a moment’s notice should that be requested. He also urged patience while he conceded Canadians are hurting as a result of the issue.
“There is a real opportunity here to show the world we can resolve these issues in a peaceful way,” Mr. Miller said.
Meanwhile, a bailiff accompanied by Longueuil police delivered a court injunction to end a rail blockade in a suburb south of Montreal and ordered protesters to leave. Quebec Premier François Legault had said police would dismantle the blockade in Saint-Lambert as soon as an injunction was granted. Some protesters said they would not obey the court order.
The Premier told reporters that because the blockade is not on First Nations land, it is easier for the government to take action.
The Saint-Lambert blockade postponed the resumption of service from five daily Via Rail trains that travel between Montreal and Quebec City and also disrupted commuter service for 9,500 passengers a day. The blockade also stopped Canadian National Railway’s main cargo route from Montreal into the United States. Still, Mr. Legault said the Belleville blockade remains his biggest concern.
Jennifer Strachan, the Commanding Officer of the B.C. RCMP, sent a letter Wednesday to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs informing them of a police decision to reassess the force’s presence in northern B.C.
Sergeant Janelle Shoihet, a spokesperson for the B.C. RCMP, said in an e-mail the letter thanked the chiefs for previous meetings and addressed the community’s concerns with a temporary detachment in the area called a Community Industry Safety Office (CISO).
An internal communique to all RCMP employees in B.C. praised the staff for their professionalism and indicated an openness to shutting down the temporary detachment.
“We are fully aware that the presence of our CISO has been referenced as a barrier to further dialogue and decisions and we support the efforts under way to find a long-term solution,” Sgt. Shoihet said.
The Conservative Party launched a full day of debate Thursday on a motion calling on the House of Commons to “stand in solidarity” with the Wet’suwet’en people who support the Coastal GasLink project and to “condemn the radical activists who are exploiting divisions with the Wet’suwet’en community, holding the Canadian economy hostage, and threatening jobs and opportunities in Indigenous communities.”
Conservative MP Todd Doherty, who represents the northern B.C. riding of Cariboo-Prince George, said the motion he presented is about highlighting the voices of the many Wet’suwet’en people who support the project while Ms. Bennett said the Conservative motion was divisive and would not be supported by the government.
With reports from Ian Bailey in Vancouver and Kate McCullough in Belleville, Ont., and The Canadian Press
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