Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be patient and warned against the use of force as his government remained unable to secure a meeting with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at the centre of nationwide protests.
The uncertainty raised the possibility that the economic upheaval caused by rail blockades will continue for some time.
“Those who would want us to act in haste, who want us to boil this down to slogans and ignore the complexities, who think that using force is helpful – it is not,” Mr. Trudeau told the House of Commons. “Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Tuesday she is seeking a meeting with hereditary chiefs in northern British Columbia, but stressed that any talks must take place at their invitation.
She had a conference call Tuesday afternoon with a number of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, her office said, and remains committed to coming to their territory “as soon as they are available.”
Some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs from the Northern B.C. Indigenous group 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.
“There was a possibility of a meeting at the end of the month,” Ms. Bennett told reporters on Parliament Hill on Tuesday. “We are now saying we would like to meet as soon as possible and we are waiting for their invitation to have that meeting.”
Warner Naziel, who also goes by the hereditary name Smogelgem, said in a tweet on Tuesday that Wet’suwet’en Nation leaders have not agreed to meet with the federal and B.C. governments. “We will not talk to them until the RCMP are out of our lands,” Mr. Naziel wrote.
B.C. Minister for Indigenous Relations Scott Fraser said he was not aware of any demands that RCMP vacate their checkpoint along the pipeline route in Wet’suwet’en territory, but added that it would not be possible. “We don’t tell the RCMP what to do, nor should we,” he said.
Members of Parliament held an emergency debate into Tuesday evening to discuss Indigenous relations.
Protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have spread across the country, although in some cases their aims have expanded beyond solidarity with the faction of the Indigenous group.
Dozens of demonstrators blocked a Halifax container terminal last Tuesday, while smaller groups have blocked a railway and a highway in rural Manitoba in recent days.
A group of protesters from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., meanwhile, has ground rail traffic between Toronto and Montreal to a stop with an effective blockade along the tracks for some two weeks. Although they were inspired to build their encampment by RCMP actions in B.C., the Mohawks also have more ambitious goals, including for the Canadian state to redress an unspecified list of colonial wrongs.
“They need to clean up the mess they’ve made for 150 years,” said Andrew Brant, one of the demonstrators.
With no indication of when freight service through Ontario will resume, more than 30 Canadian business associations sent a joint letter to Mr. Trudeau urging Ottawa to end the disruptions as soon as possible.
“The damage inflicted on the Canadian economy and on the welfare of all our citizens mounts with each hour that these illegal disruptions are allowed to continue," they wrote.
Canadian National Railway Co. announced Tuesday that it is temporarily laying off about 450 employees as a result of the blockades.
One of the world’s most prominent environmentalists also weighed in this week, as climate activist Greta Thunberg offered her support to the demonstrations.
“Support the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the pipeline protests happening now in Canada! #WetsuwenStrong,” Ms. Thunberg tweeted to her four million followers. Ms. Thunberg included a link in her tweet to a website called Unist’ot’en Camp, and specifically to a page that includes information about supporting the protests.
The site says volunteers can “come to the land” and offers a chance for Indigenous supporters to apply for a travel stipend. It also suggests holding a fundraiser to help with legal costs, to write an opinion piece for a local paper and share information on social media.
In the speech to Parliament, Mr. Trudeau described the situation as “a critical moment for our country and for our future.” He acknowledged the frustrations caused by the disruptions, but cautioned against extreme viewpoints.
During his speech, Mr. Trudeau also said his government remains open to discussions with First Nations to address their concerns.
Mr. Trudeau compared the strong public sentiments to the issue with global populism, as he urged Canadians to consider opposing points of view rather than only listening to people with whom they already agree.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer sharply dismissed the Prime Minister’s speech on Tuesday, saying it failed to denounce the actions of “radical activists” as illegal and failed to offer a plan of action.
“The Prime Minister’s statement was a complete abdication of responsibility and of leadership,” Mr. Scheer told the House of Commons, describing Mr. Trudeau’s speech as a “word salad.”
Earlier Tuesday, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde joined other First Nations leaders in Ottawa to call for calm and a “constructive dialogue.”
“Our people are taking action because they want to see action," Mr. Bellegarde said. "When they see positive action by the key players, when they see a commitment to real dialogue to address this difficult situation, people will respond in a positive way.”
Mr. Bellegarde also warned that ignoring First Nations rights and jurisdiction creates conflict and court cases while peace and prosperity result when rights are respected.
Donald Maracle, chief of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Council, said members of his community saw injustice being done to the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en Nation. “In my opinion, the project should not have proceeded in that climate,” he said.
Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon, who has faced opposition in his own community, suggested the blockade should be put to an end in a sign of “good faith.”
"Bringing down the blockades doesn’t mean that you surrender,” Mr. Simon said.
In Victoria, B.C. Premier John Horgan’s home was targeted by protesters, who banged on his door saying they intended to make a citizen’s arrest. Three members of the group, who had cited the pipeline conflict in Wet’suwet’en territory as their issue, were arrested for mischief.
Mr. Horgan, whose wife was home alone when the protesters arrived, later told reporters that he will continue to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but added: “If people think that it helps their cause to terrorize my spouse, then they're dead wrong.”
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with representatives of the Mohawk Nation on Saturday and emerged suggesting “modest progress” had been made. The meeting resulted after an invitation was extended to Mr. Miller.
On Monday, Mr. Trudeau convened an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers to discuss the anti-pipeline blockades and its effects, including on the Canadian economy. He did so after cancelling a planned diplomatic trip to Barbados to campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who called the situation a “serious crisis” on Tuesday, said he was pleased the federal government sees it has a role to play in resolving the issue. But he said the Prime Minister has not produced a clear plan.
Mr. Trudeau met with opposition leaders, including Mr. Singh, on Tuesday to discuss the blockades, but he did not extend the invitation to Mr. Scheer, saying comments he made in the Commons “disqualified” him from attending the discussion.
With reports from Eric Andrew-Gee, Janice Dickson, Les Perreaux and Justine Hunter
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