Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was tight-lipped Monday about his plan to deal with anti-pipeline blockades on railways, bridges and highways as he emerged from an emergency meeting with cabinet ministers emphasizing his desire to find a quick and peaceful end to the crisis.
The closed-door meeting followed a week of growing pressure on the Liberal government to end the blockades, which started earlier this month in response to the planned construction of a $6.6-billion natural-gas pipeline in northern British Columbia called Coastal GasLink.
Speaking briefly to reporters after stepping out of the building across from Parliament Hill that houses the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau said he had reached out to a number of premiers and Indigenous leaders to discuss the standoff.
“I understand how worrisome this is for so many Canadians and difficult for many people and families across the country,” he said. “We’re going to continue to focus on resolving the situation quickly and peacefully, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The prime minister, who cancelled a two-day trip to Barbados this week to deal with the crisis at home, did not take any questions before being driven away by his RCMP security detail.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Justice Minister David Lametti and others who attended the meeting with Trudeau were similarly mum.
Monday’s emergency meeting was held as protesters continued to block rail lines as well as highways and bridges in different parts of the country. Those included shutting down for the first time the Thousand Islands Bridge border crossing near Kingston, Ont.
The Ontario Provincial Police indicated they didn’t plan on breaking up that protest, saying “the OPP has no role to play in the underlying issues of the event and is not in a position to resolve them.” Protesters lifted their blockade of the bridge in the afternoon.
Mounties in Manitoba also reported about eight to ten demonstrators at a CN Rail crossing on Highway 75 in southern Manitoba. The highway and rail line both run south to the U.S. border crossing at Emerson, Man.
RCMP spokesman Robert Cyrenne says police are stopping traffic for safety, but that vehicles are still able to pass in both directions. CN said train movement in the area had been stopped and that the company was “evaluating our legal options very closely.”
The RCMP said it had deployed a liaison team to the site to “establish a dialogue and maintain open and ongoing communication.”
Police have largely refrained from direct action against the blockades since the RCMP enforced an injunction outside Houston, B.C. earlier this month, where opponents of the Coastal GasLink project were preventing access to a work site for the pipeline.
While more than 20 people were arrested and the company is preparing to resume work, the RCMP raid sparked more protests and blockades across the country.
Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s council. But Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs are opposed to the project and say the council does not have authority over the relevant land.
There are now growing concerns about the economic costs of the protests, which have shut down rail service across much of eastern Canada as well as parts of B.C. and the Prairies. That has led to calls for the federal government to take stronger action against the protesters.
Shortly after the emergency session in Ottawa, Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, sat down with her B.C. counterpart, Scott Fraser, where the two agreed to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to discuss their concerns.
Yet while the federal government appears to be pinning at least part of its hopes on that meeting to resolve the crisis, no date has yet been set.
Story by Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press. With files from Nicole Thompson in Toronto and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton