rail blockade

Justin Trudeau says he won't force an end to railway blockades in Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out this afternoon about the protesters who continue to rally at government buildings, at ports, in city streets and on railroad tracks across the country in an attempt to protect ancestral Wet'suwet'en lands in northern B.C.

The demonstrators are opposed to the multi-billion dollar Coastal GasLink pipeline that would cut through unceeded territory managed by Wet'suwet'en First Nation, and also to the RCMP's recent invasion onto the land as officers enforced a Supreme Court injunction to clear the way for work on the pipeline to commence.

Activists have been blocking major transportation routes as a strategy to draw attention to their cause, which has in turn become the talk of Canada.

In his first substantive statement on the matter, Trudeau reminded the public that everyone has freedom to demonstrate and protest, and of the government's vow to move toward reconciliation. "We have failed our Indigenous peoples over generations, over centuries. And there is no quick fix to it," he said at a press conference.

He added that the government can't exactly order police to take any action, despite the fact that the events — the railway blockades in particular — have made for a very "difficult week" for Canadians.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who announced in December that he will be formally stepping down once a replacement leader is found, said that the demonstrators need to stop holding the country's economy "hostage" and should "check their privilege and let people whose jobs depend on the railway system do their jobs," reports Global News.

Other political figures who weighed in on the topic today include Minister of Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who told reporters that the disruptions have been "deeply concerning" and "illegal," but that the right to peaceful protest in Canada is one of our most "cherished."

He added that the federal government will be liaising with Indigenous leaders to try and get the blockades removed, while Trudeau stated to press yesterday that "we are a country of the rule of law and we need to make sure those laws are followed."

In solidarity with Wet'suwet'en, members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory have been blocking traffic along the CN Rail tracks near Belleville for more than a week now, which has meant the cancellation of hundreds of commuter and freight trains traveling between Toronto, Montreal and beyond.

Train lines near Hazleton, B.C., Halifax, and Winnipeg were also affected by protests in the last week, while CN had to officially shut down operations in Eastern Canada yesterday.

Cargo is being re-routed to the U.S. as the demonstrations continue to impact multiple ports in B.C.

Some of the demonstrations have been broken up by injunctions — like the one issued today ordering activists to clear out from the B.C. Legislature — but this method has been ineffective at other protest sites across the country.

Though Coastal GasLink has the formal support of 20 elected First Nations band councils along the forthcoming natural gas pipeline's 670 km-long route, a number of hereditary Wet'suwet'en Nation chiefs are still opposed to the project. 

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