Trudeau says time for blockades to end, Indigenous leaders to work with government

Trudeau says time for blockades to end, Indigenous leaders to work with government
Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference to discuss the current rail blockades and other topics Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says after two weeks, barricades on rail lines and other major transportation routes have to come down.

“We are waiting for Indigenous leadership to show that it understands,” he said in an Ottawa news conference. “The onus is on them.”

He said injunctions to clear tracks must be obeyed and the law must be upheld, and there’s no point making the same overtures to Indigenous leaders if they aren’t accepted.

“Let us be clear: all Canadians are paying the price. Some people can’t get to work, others have lost their jobs,” Trudeau said. “Essential goods cannot get where they need to go.”

The situation “is unacceptable and untenable,” he said.

The blockades, particularly one on a critical east-west rail line in Ontario, are responses by Indigenous people and supporters to a move by the RCMP to clear protesters who had been blocking access to a worksite for a major natural-gas pipeline project in British Columbia. Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation oppose the work on their traditional territory, despite support from elected band councils along the pipeline route.

On Thursday, the RCMP in B.C. sent a letter to the traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, telling them the force intends to move its officers off the access road and station them instead in the nearby town of Houston.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he believes this move meets the original conditions set by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and that the time has come for the barricades to come down.

In response, one of the traditional chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation said his people are willing to engage in nation-to-nation talks with B.C. and federal governments, but not until the RCMP in B.C. have left traditional Wet’suwet’en territory entirely and Coastal GasLink, the pipeline company, ceases work in the area.

Hereditary Chief Woos, also known as Frank Alec, said the B.C. RCMP have not yet left the Wet’suwet’en territory and charged they have also “increased harassment, made illegal arrests, increased surveillance and monitoring of Wet’suwet’en people and their invited guests.”

“This is completely unacceptable and far from a show of good faith and contradicts the announcement of the RCMP,” Woos said.

Until their demands are met, the barricade in Ontario erected by the Mohawks at Tyendinaga will not come down, said Kanenhariyo, who also goes by Seth LaFort, of the Mohawks of Tyendinaga.

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were visiting supporters at Tyendinaga to thank them for their support and held a news conference afterward.

Woos took issue with Trudeau’s comments that the blockades are causing trouble for Canadians, suggesting the Wet’suwet’en are facing injustice.

“There is a difference between inconvenience and injustice – total difference. Don’t confuse one with the other,” Woos said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is contending with pressure from several premiers to take more swift and decisive action to end the blockades.

“We’ve sent a message clearly with our willingness to say, quite publicly, that we don’t believe it’s in the best interests of protesters or the general public to stand back in respect of the laws being broken, that it can endanger people’s lives and endanger their well-being,” Manitoba’s Brian Pallister said Friday.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement Friday saying “enough is enough.”

“The illegal blockades must come down. This is a national emergency and innocent people from coast to coast are being hurt. The federal government must co-ordinate action to take down these illegal blockades across the country.”

Alberta’s Jason Kenney, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister, was sharper in an appearance of his own. He said he made it clear to the prime minister on the conference call with the other premiers that the blockades are having devastating impacts on people across the country.

He said it is scaring away investment and giving the impression that Canada can’t operate as a modern democratic country.

Trudeau has been under increasing pressure to end the blockades, with Conservatives calling for the government to use force, while the Liberal government insists peaceful negotiations are the only way to a lasting solution.

Canada’s premiers are among those pressing for a swift resolution, including Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who said Thursday provincial police in Quebec would dismantle a blockade in a suburb south of Montreal as soon as an injunction was granted.

Canadian National Railway received a court injunction to end the blockade in St-Lambert Thursday. By late Friday afternoon, police had issued several warnings to the protesters there but had not moved in.

An account of the conversation with the premiers from Trudeau’s office stressed his recognition of the need to restore rail service across the country and that the federal government is looking at all options to resolve the current interruptions given the impact on the economy.

Trudeau called it a “complex issue” on which he working closely with B.C. Premier John Horgan. He also noted his hope that the RCMP’s offer to withdraw from the traditional territory in B.C. will lead to a meeting between Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to address both urgent and longer-term issues.

Horgan struck a more understanding note than some of the other premiers Friday. He said his government continues to be ready to engage in talks with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

He acknowledged it’s a “challenge” to have a dialogue with chiefs who have refused to meet with federal or provincial cabinet ministers unless the RCMP and Coastal GasLink withdraw entirely from their traditional territories.

But Horgan said more people from the community, other than the hereditary chiefs, have begun to speak out, including the matriarchs who have historically been the keepers of the traditional practices of the Wet’suwet’en people.

Horgan said he expects Na’moks, a hereditary chief who also goes by John Ridsdale, will be hearing from people in the community about his refusal to meet with the province, because that’s “not how you have respectful dialogue with your neighbours.”

He said he believes the vast majority of northern B.C. residents and Wet’suwet’en people want to find a way forward and his government remains “at the ready” to help reach that outcome.

Story by Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press. With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg, Bill Graveland in Calgary and Laura Kane in Vancouver.


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