Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday Ottawa is prepared to engage with Indigenous protesters blockading the country’s main rail artery and foster “dialogue” as nationwide rail shutdowns enter their second day.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since CN Rail announced a massive shutdown of its eastern Canadian network Thursday, Garneau said Ottawa is not prepared to take any action at this point beyond sending cabinet ministers to meet with protesting First Nations.
Garneau said it is up to the provincial police to enforce a court-ordered injunction to clear away the illegal protest action. The Ontario Provincial Police has so far refused to move protesters away from the rail lines. The protesters have also dismissed requests from on-reserve Tyendinaga Police to move along voluntarily.
Scheer calls on police to act
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Friday it’s time the prime minister directed the RCMP to enforce the law.
“Quite frankly, this is getting ridiculous. Radical activists, many of whom have no connection to the Wet’suwet’en people, are holding our economy hostage. Meanwhile our prime minister has been out of the country on a vanity project to win a vote at the UN, neglecting his duties here at home,” Scheer said, referencing Trudeau’s trip to Africa.
“Do the right thing, Prime Minister Trudeau. We can’t allow a small number of activists to hold our economy hostage and threaten thousands of jobs,” Scheer said. “I believe it’s time for the law to be enforced. Law enforcement should enforce the law. We have court orders, court injunctions, they need to be respected.”
Asked why the government has allowed the southern Ontario rail action to stretch on for over a week, Garneau said Ottawa has been actively engaged on the file.
“The government has been working every day, I can assure you, since this happened,” Garneau said. “Freedom of expression and peaceful protest are among the most fundamental and cherished rights in a democracy such as a Canada and must be respected and protected.”
The Mohawk activists have said they won’t end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en in northern B.C. Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders had been blocking road access to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.
While much of the police action near that road ended Tuesday with multiple arrests, the RCMP still has officers stationed near the pipeline construction site.
Garneau said “dialogue” and “building consensus” is the way forward. He said Indigenous groups in B.C. dismantled a rail blockade in New Hazelton, B.C. after Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and her B.C. counterpart agreed to meet with Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. An Indigenous blockade in Manitoba also ended Thursday.
‘They need to check their privilege’
Scheer said the activists don’t care about the livelihoods of Indigenous peoples in northern B.C. and argued the Coastal GasLink project will bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in support payments to First Nations communities.
He said the protesters are intent on shutting down the entire energy sector and Trudeau has let them “run roughshod over the rule of law.”
“These protesters, these activists may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege and let people whose jobs depend on the railway system, small businesses and farmers, do their jobs,” Scheer said.