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Feds seek quick, peaceful resolution after emergency meeting on rail blockades
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is focusing on a quick, peaceful solution to address ongoing protests and rail blockades that have shut down much of the country's rail system.
He made the comments after meeting with the Incident Response Group on Monday. One of the lead ministers on the file said later that the path towards de-escalation will be "painful."
"I understand how worrisome this is for so many Canadians and difficult for many people and families across the country. We're going to continue to focus on resolving the situation quickly and peacefully and that's what we're going to do," Trudeau said.
The Incident Response Group, which includes senior cabinet ministers who hold relevant portfolios, was discussing the escalating dispute over a planned natural gas pipeline that would cross Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C.
"We had a good meeting this morning of the incident response group, discussions with Ministers, I made some phone calls to Indigenous leadership as well as to a number of premiers,” Trudeau said.
Protesters across the country have been blocking access to railway lines in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose hereditary chiefs oppose the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline project on their ancestral territory.
In an interview on CTV's Power Play, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said that there is a pathway to de-escalation but that "it's a painful one, and it's an hour-by-hour conversation that involves engagement at the highest levels."
"It is a moving set of issues hour-by-hour," Miller said. He said the face-to-face engagement will continue.
Miller visited the railway blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, near Belleville, Ont. over the weekend. There, he said he made “modest” progress after a day-long meeting with the Mohawk Nation, adding that there was more work to be done.
On Monday Miller acknowledged the "vitriol" that's continued to amplify as these demonstrations have continued.
NAVIGATING STRAINED RELATIONSHIP
Experts say it will be a long road to progress as politicians and police navigate an already strained relationship with Indigenous groups.
“This is clearly recognition from Ottawa that the public wants to see something done. But the question is what exactly can they do at this point,” Laura Stone, political reporter with the Globe and Mail, said during an interview with CTV’s Your Morning Monday.
Stone, who spent the weekend reporting from the Belleville blockade, noted that police are being careful with how they engage with protesters.
“What’s really interesting about the scene near Belleville is that OPP officers are really trying to engage in a dialogue with these groups but not actually going into a hostile situation,” she said.
“They’ll sit back on the road, they’ll check in with protesters twice a day to make sure everything is alright.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has criticized the Liberal government’s response, suggesting that the government should order the RCMP to put an end to the blockades.
However, Trudeau has responded to those calls noting Canada, “is not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters.”
Miller has also said that sending police in to break up blockades would only result in more disruptive protests in the future thanks to a tense relationship between police and Indigenous communities.
"The people that are standing out there, they're in fear for their lives, but they've decided to take a perspective that we don't share," Miller said Monday, adding that if this isn’t handled differently this time, it will likely just continue happening.
SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT GROWS
Support for the Wet’suwet’en Nation has now spread south of the border, with protesters blocking trains in Seattle.
“Canada off Wet’Suwet’en land,” read a sign held by protesters.
Meanwhile, over 200 people have RSVP’d to a protest planned Monday at Ottawa’s Confederation Park, according to a Facebook event page.
With files from CTV News' Rachel Aiello
The readout from today's emergency meeting on the rail blockades emphasizes "the importance of resolving the situation in a peaceful manner."— Rachel Gilmore (@atRachelGilmore) February 17, 2020
The feds add that they're trying to resolve the situation "as soon as possible." #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/lMcv7HDuIk