Proposed talks between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the federal and B.C. governments have been called off, at least for now, as demonstrations over the Coastal GasLink pipeline and Indigenous land rights cause disruptions across the country.
The hereditary chiefs released a statement Wednesday saying they had invited the two levels of government to enter into talks, but they declined. However, the chiefs said their invitation still stands.
The office of B.C. Premier John Horgan indicated that the province remains interested in a meeting.
We had hoped the Hereditary Chiefs would agree to a period of peace and respect during the talks, which would include encouraging their supporters to remove blockades, a spokesman said.
Across the country, demonstrators have set up rail blockades, blocked government offices and shut down roads in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the planned route of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.
In Tyendinaga, Ont., Mohawk demonstrators have disrupted trains, leading to arrests. In a live feed from the Facebook account Real Peoples Media, protesters can be seen standing on the tracks as a train barrels towards them, leaping to safety in the final seconds. There has also been footage of fires on the tracks and police removing debris from the rail lines.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has voiced concerns about the ongoing blockades.
“It is extremely concerning to see people endangering their own lives and the lives of others by trying to interfere with the trains,” Trudeau said.
The sentiment was echoed by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
“I think that’s terribly unsafe and inappropriate, but again the police of jurisdiction are managing that and that’s their responsibility,” Blair said.
“We would encourage everyone to obey the law and be safe.”
Transport Minister Marc Garneau also weighed in on the fires that were lit on the tracks in Tyendinaga, calling it a “totally reckless act.”
“I saw the video this morning, and something that not only put in danger the life of the people who were actually lighting this fire under a moving train, but also could have been very dangerous for many other people, because what if this train was carrying dangerous materials? It could have ignited, depending on the size of the fire,” Garneau said.
He would not comment on CN Rail’s decision to run trains through the area, adding that he’s sure they “thought very carefully” before doing so.
Demonstrations have continued since the Ontario Provincial Police charged 10 protesters in connection with the blockade near Belleville, Ont. In addition to the continued pushback at the tracks in Tyendinaga, solidarity protests have been taking place across the country.
Among those new protests were a blockade that halted a regional transit service near Hamilton on Tuesday and a rolling blockade that was briefly set up by the Khanawake Mohawk on Quebec’s Honoré Mercier Bridge.
Canadian Pacific Railway also obtained an injunction on Tuesday to stop a blockade in Khanawake, just south of Montreal. Meanwhile in B.C., at least six protesters were arrested at the Port of Vancouver and demonstrations have continued at the B.C. Legislature.
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have said they will not end their demonstrations against the project until the company behind the pipeline, Coastal GasLink, ceases all operations on Wet’suwet’en territory in B.C. and the RCMP leaves the territory entirely.
Blair said the RCMP cannot remove its presence from the whole area, as people within the 22,000 square kilometers of Wet’suwet’en territory are entitled to have access to a police service.
“The RCMPhave a responsibility to maintain public safety throughout that community,” Blair said.
Garneau confirmed on Tuesday that the police will be moving in to respond to injunctions against blockades across the country.
“The provincial police will be moving in and responding to the injunctions that have been put in,” Garneau said.
The Mohawk Council of Khanawake, however, has warned against this kind of police action. In a press release sent out shortly after the Ontario Provincial Police moved in against the Tyendinaga blockade on Monday, they cautioned that the use of police will not result in a peaceful outcome.
“The Mohawk Council of Khanawà:ke wishes to express its outrage and disgust regarding the actions taken this morning on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory,” the release said.
“It has become very obvious that use of injunctions and police against Indigenous people who are simply defending their own land from unwanted development will not produce a peaceful resolve.”
With files from The Canadian Press