'Barricades must now come down,' PM Trudeau says of rail blockades
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for the end to the blockades that have shut down major railways across Canada.
"The injunctions must be obeyed, and the law must be upheld," said Trudeau, addressing reporters from the National Press Theatre on Friday afternoon. "Canadians who are feeling the very real impact of these blockades are running out of patience."
These blockades have stopped CN Rail from transporting goods across the eastern rail network, have halted most Via Rail passenger service Canada-wide, and have resulted in temporary layoffs and economic impacts on the agriculture sector, which can't move its products as a result.
“The inconvenience that they're experiencing is something we've experienced since the beginning of contact when our people were first forced onto reservations,” said Chief Smogelgem, a Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief.
The prime minister made the announcement following a gathering of his Incident Response Team on Parliament Hill to determine next steps to end the blockades scattered across the country in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who oppose the construction of a natural gas pipeline across their territory.
"Every attempt at dialogue has been made," said Trudeau, who added that conversations haven’t been successful. He said that it's now on Indigenous leadership to act.
"We are waiting for Indigenous leadership to show that it also understands the onus is on them. We will be there to discuss but the barricades must come down," said the prime minister, repeating that his government has demonstrated its commitment to Indigenous reconciliation over the years, which he admitted is a "difficult journey."
To date, the government has pointed to “peaceful dialogue” as the most effective path forward – an approach met with backlash from opposition calling for more.
"We can’t have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table. For this reason, we have no choice but to stop making the same overtures. Of course we will never close to the door on dialogue and our hand remains extended should someone want to reach to it," Trudeau said.
Asked whether his announcement gives way for police to enforce the law – through forcible removal or otherwise – Trudeau said it’s not up to the government to order "enforcement action."
"We continue to be hopeful that the leadership within these Indigenous communities will find a way to bring down these barricades peacefully. But as a federal government, we have exhausted our capacity to engage in a positive, substantive, active way."
In a letter to the office of the Wet’suwet’en, the B.C. RCMP has proposed to leave their position on the territory and position themselves instead in the nearby town of Houston, B.C.
Responding to Trudeau's remarks, some of the opposing hereditary chiefs who travelled east to visit Mohawk leaders issued their own demands.
Speaking from Tyendinaga, Ont. near Belleville, where a blockade has been up for over a week in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation, the chiefs said that in order for further discussions to occur, the RCMP have to completely move off their land, and all work by Coastal GasLink must cease while these talks are ongoing. Should those demands be met, the solidarity blockades could come down.
When asked what could happen if the encampment were raided by the police, Seth LeFort of the Tyendinaga Mohawk said, “that’s a matter of national security.”
One of the hereditary chiefs, Chief Woos of the Grizzly House, said that the protesters who are demonstrating in solidarity with them "have the same vision, the same values, the same concerns for their children and their grandchildren."
Another, Chief Kloum Khun, took issue with Trudeau suggesting that the dialogue has been one-sided.
"When Prime Minister Trudeau is talking about a lopsided dialogue, one-sided, he better take a look at the way they’ve been treating the Aboriginal people ever since Confederation," he said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Friday that if this crisis ends, it won't be as a result of any action the federal government has taken.
"Sixteen days into this crisis, more than 1,500 people have lost their jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Canada's economy and the prime minister still has nothing concrete to say," Scheer said.
Scheer said that he is not calling for operational direction, but that "it is entirely appropriate for the government to issue general direction, for example, to keep critical infrastructure clear or to up enforce and uphold court injunctions."
Also speaking from Parliament Hill on Friday, Bloc Quebecois MP Christine Normandin said in French that Trudeau's latest remarks werenot much of an update and that Canadians have reached their limit, while B.C. NDP MP Rachel Blaney said her thoughts are with the safety of those on the blockades and the families who are worried about making ends meet.
Blaney took issue with Trudeau saying that the onus is now on Indigenous people, saying that the prime ministeris denying having any responsibility for the current state of the relationship.
“That is both dangerous and irresponsible,” Blaney said. “We need the federal government and our prime minister to step up to the plate and do his job.”
On CTV's Power Play, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said that after giving it time and an "earnest" effort, she hopes those on the barricades will see that and respond by taking down their blockades, though there has been no clear response from the Liberals as to what happens if the blockades aren’t dismantled.
"The police always have discretion, as long as they see progress, then they will make their own decision," Bennett said.
With files from CTV News' Alexandra Mae Jones