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VIA Rail cancels trains across Canada, CN shuts down Eastern Canada network amid pipeline protests
TORONTO -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the rule of law must be followed after railway blockades across Canada forced CN Rail to shut down its entire Eastern Canada network and Via Rail to cancel passenger trains nationwide.
CN Rail, which obtained court orders in hopes of ending the blockades, said Thursday it is progressively shutting down its operations in Eastern Canada “until the illegal blockades end.” The company said that also means stopping all transcontinental trains across its Canadian network.
Via Rail, which relies on CN’s tracks, said it had “no other option” than to cancel almost its entire service effective immediately. Only two northern routes – Sudbury-White River and Churchill-The Pas – will remain open.
Passengers with bookings will receive automatic refunds, and the company will not accept any new bookings before Feb. 18.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is following the situation closely.
“Obviously we’re a country with a rule of law and we need to make sure that those laws are followed,” Trudeau said Thursday after arriving in Germany for the Munich Security Conference.
The protests began last week after the RCMP enforced a court injunction against Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters. The group had been halting construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, a major piece of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.
The 670-kilometre pipeline crosses the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation near Houston, B.C. So far, RCMP have arrested 28 protesters in B.C.
Similar protests have emerged across Canada with supporters saying they want the RCMP to leave the traditional Wet'suwet'en territory.
CN Rail said it has sought and obtained court orders and requested help from enforcement agencies for the blockades in Ontario, Manitoba and B.C. The company says that, while the blockades have ended in Manitoba and may be “imminently” ending in B.C., the court orders in Ontario “continue to be ignored.”
“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protestors,” CN Rail CEO JJ Ruest said in a statement issued Thursday.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who has previously called the blockades "illegal" and said enforcing injunctions against protesters is a provincial responsibility, said Thursday that he is “deeply concerned” by the rail shutdown.
“A safe and efficient passenger and freight rail service is critical to the well-being of our country,” Morneau said in a statement.
“All parties must engage in open and respectful dialogue to ensure this situation is resolved peacefully. We strongly urge these parties to do so.”
Ruest said commuter rail link services such as Metrolinx and Exo can continue operating “so long as they can do so safely.”
CN said its shutdown may lead to temporary layoffs for some employees in eastern Canada.
FEDS REACH OUT TO PROTESTERS
Demonstrators remain camped out at two blockades on a rail line in Belleville, Ont. They say the protests are the only way to get their message across.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller has sent a letter to protest organizers asking them to meet with him Saturday to discuss the situation and dismantle the barricade.
"I hope you will agree to this request and that we can meet in the spirit of peace and co-operation that should guide our relationship,” Miller said in an email posted publicly on Thursday.
One of the letter’s three recipients, Tyendinaga Mohawk Chief Donald Maracle, said he expects the meeting will take place, but he would not commit to ending the demonstration.
Trudeau wrote to the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs on Thursday to confirm that a member of his cabinet will meet with them to discuss the issue. That minister will be Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett.
B.C. Premier John Horgan has said he is also willing to meet with demonstrators.
Pam Palmater, chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, said Via Rail’s decision to halt trains nationwide is “an entirely manufactured crisis.”
“For Via Rail to shut down all railway service across the country is a gross overreaction to the few instances where the rails have been impacted,” she told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday.
“Second of all, genocide is pretty inconvenient for Indigenous peoples. And there has been no avenues, no recourse, there has been no action to end the genocide -- which includes not recognizing land rights, which includes sending in the RCMP to remove us from our land. What else do you expect us to do to try to get some attention?”
The hereditary chiefs held ultimate Indigenous authority over the Wet'suwet'en traditional territory up until the Indian Act of 1876, which set up a framework for bands and elections. The hereditary chiefs say they hold title over a 22,000-square-kilometre area that includes part of the proposed pipeline route.
All 20 elected band councils along the route have approved the pipeline, but the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs do not support it.
ECONOMIC ANXIETIES RISING
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told CTV’s Power Play that the shutdown is “very problematic” for Canadian businesses, both in his province and nationwide.
“The damage is already there to the economy. We are going to feel this for days, weeks and likely months to come,” Moe said.
“The federal government needs to act, not only in meeting with these individuals of the Wet'suwet'en nation, but also by ensuring that the law of our nation is enforced and enforced very quickly.”
Ryan Greer, senior director of transportation policy for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, echoed those concerns.
"This is having far-reaching impacts on businesses of all sizes in all parts of the country," told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
"Rail lines are in effect the circulatory system of the Canadian economy. We're talking about impact on business imports, consumer goods, items for export, perishable food items, Canadian natural resources and manufactured goods, Canadian grain, the chemicals that are used to de-ice planes or in water treatment plants in various communities, propane for communities in Quebec and Atlantic Canada."
Bob Masterson, president of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, said Canada is “approaching a crisis” due to the blockades and called on the federal government to take action.
"The global investors looking at Canada are asking the question … do they not have a rule of law?"
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV’s Ryan Flanagan