As economic impact of rail blockades grows, protesters say fundamental rights are at stake
TORONTO -- Rail blockades in Ontario, Quebec and B.C. are stalling the nation’s economy, warn business leaders, but protesters say the real issues are Indigenous rights and livelihoods.
The halting of CN Rail service in eastern Canadawill impact businesses of all sizes, along with employees and consumers, said Ryan Greer, senior director of transportation at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Propane reserves are at about five days in Atlantic Canada, mining companies are curtailing operations and agricultural exporters say Canada isn’t being looked at as a reliable supplier, so commodity prices are falling, Greer told CTV News Channel Friday.
“Not only is it bad, but every hour and every day it goes on it gets worse,” said Greer. “It creates more backlogs, it creates more uncertainty in global markets, and it impacts not only our collective wellbeing, but the reputation of Canada in global supply chains.”
The ongoing protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation against construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline have caused blockades across the country at government legislatures and major rail crossings.
Dennis Darby, president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, says rail lines are crucial supply links east to west across Canada and south into the U.S., and in a world of just-in-time delivery, the sudden and unexpected shutdown of rail freight will quickly cause havoc.
Darby told CTV News Channel Friday that Canadian manufacturers rely on about 4,500 rail cars a day and produce about $200 billion in GDP annually.
“So any day that we’re not at full tilt we’re losing millions of dollars” and losing ground to producers elsewhere, he said.
A rail shutdown means that companies can’t get goods to market and can’t run production lines once inventories of parts, commodities, and raw materials are depleted. That will eventually shutter plants, he said.
“The issue, of course, for rail is that you can’t substitute most of these things on to other forms of transportation. They are just too big and bulky,” said Darby.
Via Rail’s cancellation of passenger service across Canada also hurts business, said Greer, because that means tens of thousands of people can’t get to their jobs or travel for business.
He is urging all levels of government to work together to end the blockades immediately. Hope and intent are not enough-- outcomes are what matters, said Greer.
“It’s one thing to call a blockade illegal but until rail service is resumed, all levels of government are not upholding their collective responsibility to uphold the rule of law in this country. And ultimately it’s Canadian businesses, communities and workers and their families that are paying the price,” he said.
“No one wants to see violence or anyone harmed, but at the same time this cannot continue uninterrupted.”
Ta’Kaiya Blaney and Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, who took part in the blockage of government buildings in Victoria this week, say protesters are resorting to blockades as a last resort.
“We stand for Canada to uphold, observe and be accountable to its promises to negotiate in good faith with Indigenous nations and that cannot come with the conditions of coercion, military invasion, exclusion zones that bar them access to their territory,” Blaney said on CTV News Channel Friday.
“That is unconstitutional how it’s been conducting itself within Wet’suwet’en territory.”
Blaney, who is a member of Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en, said the disruptions to rail traffic wouldn’t have been necessary had Canada conducted itself as it promised and that protesters are seeking to protect the livelihoods of their Wet’suwet’en relatives.
Sutherland-Wilson, who is of the Gitxsan First Nation, said the provincial government has infringed upon Wet’suwet’en rights and title on their territory and is “essentially saying that as Indigenous nations we do not have the right to say no, that we do not have the right to good-faith negotiations and that’s very problematic.”
He said First Nations across the country are banding together to make clear to the province and to Canada “that it will be far costlier to allow this project to run its course than to revoke the permits.”