More protests expected today, governments to meet with First Nations

Protesters occupied the B.C. Attorney General's office in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs this week. Image: Twitter

Anti-pipeline protests that have severed vital freight and passenger rail links across Canada could heat up today, with the added threat of activists planning to shut down government offices in British Columbia's capital.

Protests continue as political leaders look to negotiate solutions, while business leaders, opposition politicians and ordinary people call for immediate action to end the disruptions, which have already seen more than 80 arrests.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan spoke Thursday about the need to work together to resolve the pipeline tensions that have resulted in solidarity blockades in Ontario, Manitoba and B.C.

Indigenous leaders in B.C.'s northwest have invited federal and B.C. politicians to meetings to find solutions.

The Indigenous leaders have said they would ensure a blockade of CN Rail track near New Hazelton, B.C., would come down during talks.

Canadian National Railway said Thursday it was starting a progressive shutdown in the East, while Via Rail cancelled all service on CN tracks in Canada.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said safe and efficient passenger and freight rail service is critical to Canada's well-being.

He is to meet with his provincial and territorial counterparts as well as representatives of national Indigenous organizations to discuss a way forward.

The blockades began last week after RCMP enforced an injunction against Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who were blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, a key part of the $40-billion LNG Canada export project.

Horgan has rejected calls from the Opposition Liberals to seek immediate injunctions to end the blockades and protests in B.C.

“We can't just use force,” he said in the legislature. “It needs to be dealt with by co-operation, by consultation, by discussion so that we can all move forward.''

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Horgan was taking an “entirely passive approach in the face of implacable protesters who are intent on shutting down constituency services, shutting down the universities, shutting down our transportation arteries.'”

Groups including Grain Growers of Canada, Forest Products Association of Canada and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters have said rail delays caused by the blockades are hurting their members and the economy.

Teamsters Canada, the country's largest union in the transportation sector, called on the federal government to intervene.

The union warned the impasse could put up to 6,000 workers at CN and other rail companies out of work.

Protesters have threatened to block government buildings in Victoria on Friday, but late Thursday a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted an injunction against further blockades at the legislature.

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route.

However, Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area and say band councils only have authority over reserve lands.

More than two dozen people have been arrested in the pipeline construction area near Houston, B.C., by RCMP enforcing an injunction order. Vancouver Police arrested more than 50 people this week enforcing an injunction order against people blocking access to Vancouver area ports.

© 2020 The Canadian Press