Canada seeks peaceful end to rail blockade as pressure builds

Environment

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is seeking a peaceful end to a rail blockade that has shut down freight and passenger traffic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday, amid increasing pressure from the Conservative opposition to clear the tracks.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the indigenous Wet’suwet’en Nation occupy railway tracks as part of a protest against British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

For almost two weeks, protesters across the country have taken up the cause of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous people of British Columbia in their campaign against the C$6.6 billion ($4.98 billion) Coastal GasLink project.

In Ontario, Tyendinaga Mohawk protesters have stopped service along a major Eastern Canada rail line.

“I know that people’s patience is running short. We need to find a solution and we need to find it now,” Trudeau told legislators in parliament. The dispute should be settled by “dialogue and mutual respect” and not through force, he added.

Canadian National Railway Co (CN) has obtained a court injunction to end the blockade in Ontario, but police have so far refrained from using force to uphold it.

Police in British Columbia did clear out protesters, turning the situation into a flashpoint for indigenous demonstrators. The standoff is testing Trudeau’s pledge to repair Ottawa’s relations with First Nations and champion their causes.

The disruption comes as other major energy projects that will affect indigenous peoples hang in the balance, including the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the decision on whether to approve Teck Resources Ltd’s Frontier oil sands project.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the official opposition Conservative Party, said Trudeau’s response to a national crisis has been weak. Scheer blamed “a small group of radical activists” for the blockades.

“No one has the right to hold our economy hostage,” Scheer said.

The rail stoppage has led to a shortage of propane, especially for rural communities, and on Tuesday farmers warned that they have not been able to get their products to ports.

“Interruptions in rail service amplifies the stress that farmers and rural communities are under, creating a huge amount of uncertainty in their day-to-day lives,” said Mary Robinson, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

The demonstrations spread as environmentalists joined the campaign, arguing that Canada – a major energy exporter – should do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she supports the protesters.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, passenger operator VIA Rail Canada said it would resume partial services between Quebec City and Ottawa on Thursday.

Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Rachit Vats in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker

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