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Pipeline protesters need to 'check their privilege,' Conservative leader says
OTTAWA -- Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said pipeline protesters standing in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs need to "check their privilege" and stand down.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Friday, Scheer expressed frustration with the ongoing demonstrations against construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which have caused blockades across the country at government legislatures and major rail crossings.
The Canadian National Railway (CN Rail) announced Thursday it was shutting down its eastern freight network. Via Rail also cancelled all service on tracks across Canada.
"These protesters, these activists, may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege, they need to check their privilege and let people whose job depends on the railway system – small business, farmers – do their job," said Scheer.
He said the blockades are "illegal" and should be shut down by law enforcement.
"We have court orders, we have court injunctions and they need to be respected. I’m calling for an end to the blockades," he said. "As prime minister I would direct the RCMP to enforce the law to ensure that our railway system can operate."
Indigenous rights activist and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University Pam Palmater responded to the Conservative leader’s comments, saying Scheer "needs to check his own white privilege and his blatant racism and disdain towards First Nations."
"His words are an embarrassment, shameful and hateful and thankfully don't represent those of most Canadians. Canadians continue to be our strongest allies in seeking justice for our peoples - that's what the treaty relationship is all about," the statement to CTVNews.ca read.
Meetings with hereditary chiefs, Indigenous leaders planned
Scheer said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is "running around" trying to secure a seat for the United Nations Security Council and not prioritizing the situation at home. Trudeau is on an eight-day tour of Africa and Europe to drum up support for Canada’s spot at the table.
Trudeau addressed reporters in Munich, Germany today, while attending a global security conference. When asked whether it’s a wise decision to travel to Barbados next week to meet with Caribbean leaders, as his schedule dictates, he said his cabinet is “fully engaged” on the ground but his travel plans remain firm.
"Our deputy prime minister has been connected with all of the provincial and territorial counterparts and premiers,” he said. "We are working on it with a whole of government of approach."
Minister of Transport Marc Garneau also weighed in on the escalating protests on Friday morning, stating that the rule of law must be followed but that the government would balance this approach with a path towards reconciliation.
"Clearly this is a difficult time, and there is work ahead of us but I can assure you the Government of Canada is committed to working on these matters in a manner consistent with its broader commitments to reconciliation. We also are a country that is a proud democracy that believes in the rule of law," said Garneau.
A joint meeting between the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs is in the works to discuss steps to resolution. Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is also slated to meet with Indigenous leaders in Ontario.
Groups including Grain Growers of Canada, Forest Products Association of Canada and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters have said rail delays caused by the blockades are hurting their members and the economy.
Teamsters Canada, the country's largest union in the transportation sector, called on the federal government to intervene.
"Our union -- and thousands of working families -- are in crisis. This situation cannot go on forever. We urge Ottawa to intervene to help find a solution as soon as possible," said national president of Teamsters Canada Francois Laporte in a written statement.
The union warned the impasse could put up to 6,000 employees at CN and other rail companies out of work.
Scheer said the government should follow the "will" of the majority of First Nations communities who have approved the construction of the pipeline.
"The protesters who claim to care about the impact on First Nations communities and are opposing Coastal Gaslink are doing it wrong. They’re missing out on the fact that the elected band council supports this project, the majority of the hereditary chiefs support this project."
In an interview on CTV Power Play on Thursday, British Columbia’s Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said while some hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeline, they were consulted prior to construction.
"There was extensive work done with all the communities. I know Coastal Gaslink made every effort to include the office of Wet’suwet’en," said Fraser.
With files from The Canadian Press