Protesters in eastern Ontario who are disrupting rail traffic in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders in northwestern British Columbia have established a second site within Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
Negotiations are ongoing between the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the people who have established their presence adjacent to Canadian National Railway Co.-owned rail lines just east of Belleville, an OPP spokesperson said.
“We do respect a court-ordered injunction, but at this point we are monitoring the situation, members of our provincial liaison team are trying to continue negotiations and continue talking,” said Bill Dickson, the OPP’s media relations co-ordinator for the east of the province. “We’re still in the negotiation stage, no action is planned beyond that.”
The action has caused major disruption to passenger and freight traffic on one of Canada's busiest rail corridors since last Thursday.
The protesters have said they intend to maintain the solidarity action until the RCMP have left the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, where hereditary chiefs stand in opposition to the construction of a natural gas pipeline.
The RCMP said Tuesday that a temporary exclusion zone in the area was removed and everyone was free to enter the area. The police force is maintaining an office on a forest service road at the centre of the dispute to continue patrols.
Dickson said OPP representatives visited the site roughly halfway between Toronto and Montreal several times on Tuesday and at least once on Wednesday.
“We want to make sure we keep the communication going, because the ultimate end here is we want to see a peaceful resolution and a safe resolution for everyone,” he said.
He provided no timeline for how long talks would continue.
The first site, adjacent to the railway tracks on Wyman’s Road, is in Tyendinaga Township, just outside of the nation’s jurisdictional territory, Dickson said. The second site, established a little farther east, on Depot Road, either late last night or early this morning, is within its borders, he said.
Protestors blocking rail traffic in Ontario have established a second site as they stand in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary leaders and others opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in northwestern British Columbia.
That means it would be up to the nation’s Tyendinaga Police Service to decide whether to take any action, he said.
Tyendinaga Mohawk Police Chief Jason Brant issued a personal plea to demonstrators to end the demonstration.
“I’m never in favour of First Nations people being forced to do anything, whether it’s historically or ordered by white court or police, I’m not in favour of it,” he told the protesters in a video posted by CBC reporter Jorge Barrera on Twitter earlier on Wednesday.
But Brant said the point had been made. “Today is the day to go home and leave the area in peace, return to your physical homes,” he said.
He was not available to comment on Wednesday.
Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief R. Donald Maracle said the elected council played no role in prompting the demonstrations but expressed solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en and called out actions by the RCMP.
“We are both saddened and frustrated...that military-style interventions are still deemed acceptable approaches when it comes to complex First Nations matters,” he said in a statement on behalf of the elected council.
Canadian National Railway Co. warned Tuesday that it would have to close "significant" parts of its network unless blockades on its rail lines were removed.
More than 150 freight trains have been idled since the blockades were set up last Thursday in British Columbia and Ontario.
Passenger rail services have also been affected in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., with Via Rail cancelling service on its Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto routes at least until Thursday due to the blockade near Belleville.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in Wednesday on the protests, saying while the federal government respects the right to peaceful protest, the rule of law must be respected.
The blockades followed the RCMP enforcing a court injunction last week against Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who have been blocking construction of the pipeline, a key part of the $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied-natural-gas export project.
"We recognize the important democratic right — and will always defend it — of peaceful protest," Trudeau said during a news conference with Senegal's President Macky Sall. "But we are also a country of the rule of law, and we need to make sure those laws are respected."
Trudeau added that he planned to speak to federal cabinet ministers about the issue later in the day, even as he encouraged all sides to come together in "dialogue to resolve this as quickly as possible."
Chief executive JJ Ruest said the CN network gives the company limited parking space for its trains, which means traffic is backed up from Halifax to Windsor, Ont., and in parts of B.C. approaching Prince Rupert.
Via Rail said 157 passenger trains have been cancelled, affecting 24,500 travellers.
In addition to the service cancellations in Ontario, Via says a blockade near New Hazelton, B.C., also means normal rail service is being interrupted between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he is working with his Ontario counterpart Caroline Mulroney to find a solution to the blockade in that province.
Ruest said CN Rail had to temporarily discontinue service in its key corridors because of the blockades.
"The impact is also being felt beyond Canada's borders and is harming the country's reputation as a stable and viable supply chain partner," he said in a statement.
In Victoria on Tuesday, demonstrators also disrupted the business of the B.C. legislature as Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivered the NDP government's throne speech.
Protesters, who have been camping outside the building since Friday, chanted "Shame" as politicians tried to enter the building with help from security guards.
The Mounties, meanwhile, concluded enforcement of the injunction against the protest in Houston, B.C., on Monday after arresting 28 people. Six were released without charges or conditions and 14 appeared before a judge and were released with a condition to obey the injunction.
"The right to peaceful, safe and lawful protest, and freedom of expression, are important parts of Canada's democracy," the Mounties said in a statement. "However, blocking roadways is both dangerous and illegal."
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, whose members typically load about 4,500 rail cars a day, urged government officials to work with police to restore service on the tracks.
"In Canada there's not really other alternatives to move stuff around. The highways and trucks — especially in Quebec and southern Ontario — are already at a very, very high utilization of available capacity," association president Dennis Darby said in an interview.
Stakeholders from chemical companies to Dannon Yogurt called this week to raise concerns, he said.
"They can't get their stuff out."
With files from Canadian Press