Ending Ont. rail blockade by force would create future problems, minister says
TORONTO -- Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says he believes sending in police to break up the blockade in Tyendinaga, Ont. by force would only result in more disruptive protests in the future.
Instead, the government should learn not to repeat what he sees as the mistakes of the past, Miller said Sunday in an interview on CTV's Question Period.
"Do we use all means to ensure that there's a peaceful resolution to this, or do we just dig in like we've done for years and decades and come to the same conclusion? We keep repeating the same errors," the minister said.
"My advice to my colleagues is let's make sure we get to a peaceful solution. That involves dialogue."
Miller was a part of dialogue himself on Saturday, when he took part in a nine-hour meeting with representatives of the Mohawk First Nation. He told reporters after the meeting that there had been "modest progress," but refused to elaborate.
Protesters erected their blockade near a rail line in Tyendinaga Mohawk territory more than a week ago. Canadian National Railway (CN Rail) obtained a court injunction to end the demonstration soon after. Police have repeatedly requested that the protesters leave, but have not forcibly remove them.
There has been significant disruption to rail service since the protest began, with CN Rail halting all trains in Eastern Canada and Via Rail ending passenger service across the country. The rail lines have said that they do not feel it is safe to pass trains so close to the blockade, and that they cannot maintain their networks without passing trains through that spot in eastern Ontario.
The federal government's unwillingness to force an end to the blockade has drawn criticism from some politicians including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, the latter of whom has been criticized for saying the protesters should "check their privilege."
Miller said Scheer's remarks were raised during his meeting in Tyendinaga territory on Saturday. Asked for his response to the likes of Kenney and Scheer, the minister said anyone with an interest in the situation should "not get absorbed by fear or ignorance" but instead talk to those involved in the protests and learn about their grievances.
"Let's realize our mistakes from the past and make sure they don't happen again – because this problem is not going away anytime soon, and if we don't solve it the right way [with] peaceful open dialogue, it's going to come back again and again and again," he said.
Miller's call for conversation over condemnation was echoed by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a separate interview on CTV's Question Period.
"You're going to resolve this through peaceful dialogue – that's what's got to happen, no question," he said.
The protest in Tyendinaga sprung up in solidarity with a separate rail blockade in northern B.C. by members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation who oppose the current plan to run a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory. All elected Wet'suwet'en band chiefs along the route have approved the pipeline, but their authority does not extend to the entirety of the traditional territory.
Miller said that if there was "significant progress" at ending the dispute in B.C., his meeting Saturday left him with the impression that resolving the situation in Ontario would become much easier.
Asked for a more specific timeline, he declined to give one.
"I'm dealing with a highly volatile situation. I don't have the luxury in dealing with what-ifs. I'm dealing with what about now – and now we engage in dialogue, peaceful, open dialogue, and see if we can make some headway," he said.
The minister said the government and protest leaders would be in touch again on Sunday, with an eye toward setting up another face-to-face meeting.