OTTAWA -- Via Rail says despite plans to resume partial services along certain parts of its rail line, it has "no choice" but to issue temporary layoffs for "close to" 1,000 employees amid the ongoing pipeline blockades.

"Until CN Rail opens the remaining tracks for service, Via Rail has no choice but to continue the cancellation of its services on a large part of its network," said the passenger train Crown corporation in a statement.

The rail service has been down as protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have been blocking railways across Canada.

"Therefore it is with sincere regret that we must proceed with temporary employee suspensions. Starting today, close to 1,000 Via Rail employees will receive a notice regarding this matter. The terms of the collective agreements will be respected with regards to the notices given to unionized employees," Via Rail said, calling it an "unprecedented situation" that it hopes ends as soon as possible.

"In 42 years of existence, it is the first time that VIA Rail, a public intercity passenger rail service, has to interrupt most of its services across the country,” said Via Rail President and CEO Cynthia Garneau in the statement announcing layoffs.

"We have done everything to mitigate the impact on our employees and our passengers. At this point, we believe we have made the fairest and most reasonable decision with the proposed temporary suspension plan," she said.

On Thursday, Unifor President Jerry Dias said that 875 Unifor members had been issued layoff notices.

“We recognize that these are a result of external factors outside both the employer and the union’s control, and expect these to be temporary disruptions,” Dias wrote in an emailed statement.

“Unifor is in negotiations with the employer to minimize any losses of earnings, ensure notice periods are respected, and to ultimately facilitate an expedited return to work process.“

Unifor also expects to release a regional breakdown the layoffs later in the day.


Terence Johnson, president of Transport Action Canada, said in a statement on Wednesday that forcing Via to shut down its passenger routes wasnot needed as many of them do not pass any demonstrations.

“Mandating complete suspension of Via Rail services on lines without any blockades, and with very little notice to Via Rail or passengers, does not therefore appear to have been operationally necessary,” he said.

“For CN to unnecessarily cause many people to be stranded away from family and friends just before the long weekend, and without compensation or alternative transportation, was unacceptable.”

Johnson also accused CN of using Via Rail and its passengers as leverage to force Ottawa and the Ontario Provincial Police to act in the matter.

Transport Action Canada is calling for a release of the full version of the Train Service Agreement (TSA) between CN and Via Rail, which ultimately forced Via Rail service cancellationslast week, and for the federal government to pass a bill to address the relationship between the two sides.

The organization would also like the federal government to continue paying the salaries of those temporarily laid off.