The protests started last week when police started arresting members of an indigenous group that was blocking a road to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in British Columbia, CNN network partner CTV reported.
Indigenous groups and allies blocked railways and government buildings around the country in solidarity with the British Columbia group. Some rail blockades have ended, but others remain, including near Belleville, Ontario.
• Canadian National Railway (CN) on Thursday said it’s started to progressively shut down its eastern freight network, essentially east of Toronto.
• Passenger service VIA Rail, which largely uses CN railways, said Thursday its suspended most of its runs across the country until further notice, after small-scale cancellations earlier in the week.
That will have thousands of people looking for alternative transportation daily, as VIA Rail said it served 5 million passengers last year.
“I got stuck here, basically,” Amanda Viney, who was in Montreal on Thursday for a business trip, told CNN network partner CBC. “Now I’m going to attempt to catch a Greyhound back to Ottawa like everyone else.”
Near Belleville, a two-and-a-half-hour drive northeast of Toronto, activists with the Tyendinaga Mohawk group have placed vehicles near the tracks — not across them, but too close for trains to safely pass, CBC reported.
“This particular movement going across the nation around is so very important for the next generation,” Pauline Maracle, who has been cooking for the camped-out protesters for a week, told CBC. “At the end of the day, it’s the people for the people.”
The initial pipeline protest in northern British Columbia involved the Wet’suwet’en Nation indigenous group, which opposes Coastal GasLink’s plans to build a natural gas pipeline through their territory, CTV reported.
Freight shutdown will restrict supplies of food and other materials, business group warns
CN and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce have called on the government to remove the rail blockades.
The rail company obtained a court injunction last week to end the Mohawk demonstration near Belleville, CBC reported, but police so far have not dispersed them.
CN has said the shutdown of its eastern network will halt all transcontinental freight trains across its network and may lead to temporary layoffs of operational staff.
Stopping those trains will “severely limit the movement of perishable foods and other consumer items, grain, construction materials and propane for Quebec and Atlantic Canada,” the Canadian Chamber of Commerce wrote to two federal government ministers this week.
“This is creating tens of millions of dollars worth of economic damage today, right now,” Ryan Greer, the chamber’s senior director, told CTV Thursday.
“Until we have rail service resumed, I would say no level of government is fulfilling its duties to help uphold the rule of law and ensure that commerce can flow freely throughout our country,” Greer said.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he would meet Friday with representatives of indigenous organizations to discuss “a way forward.”
“We are actively working for a … resolution on all remaining blockades,” he said.
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau spoke with British Columbia Premier John Horgan about the protests Thursday, Trudeau’s office said.
They “discussed how freedom of expression is an important democratic right, but activity must respect the courts and act within the law,” according to Trudeau’s office.