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Canada

Protesters shut down West Coast Express, rail service in Metro Vancouver Friday

A blockade by Coastal GasLink protesters at Canadian Pacific’s Port Coquitlam rail yard has halted the majority of train service in Metro Vancouver, including the West Coast Express commuter service.

TransLink confirmed early Friday morning that the West Coast Express service leaving Mission City Station is suspended because of protesters blocking the railway adjacent to the Pitt River Bridge. A bus bridge has been set up to help commuters travelling from Mission to Coquitlam Central Station.

A group calling itself Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism is taking credit for the blockade, citing support of rail blockades and sovereignty struggles by Indigenous nations throughout Canada.

“Blocking access points of trade of goods and flow of capital disrupts the economy. Our movements know that there is a direct opposition between the Wet’suwet’en struggle for sovereignty and Canada’s economy,” Sadie Morris, one of about two dozen demonstrators who descended on the CP rail yard at around 3:45 p.m. Thursday.

All the West Coast Express trains scheduled to travel east from Waterfront to Mission Thursday afternoon were cancelled due to protesters blocking Canadian Pacific tracks on the Pitt River rail bridge. Late Thursday, TransLink said they have been unable to move trains, conduct necessary maintenance safety checks, and perform routine inspections.

“Please note that buses are expected to be busier than normal. We ask that customers try and seek alternative modes of travel,” TransLink said in a release.

Protesters against the Coastal GasLink pipeline block the tracks on the CP rail bridge in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Francis Georgian / PNG

The West Coast Express serves as many as 9,900 boardings per day along the 68-kilometre trip between Mission and downtown Vancouver.

It’s not known if the commuter service will be running by Friday afternoon, as the protesters in Port Coquitlam say they have no plans to end the blockade.

“We will hold the blockade until the RCMP is out of Wet’suwet’en or we are forced to move through force … through police intervention,” said protester Isabel Krupp. “We have supplies and we have reinforcements coming.”

The RCMP, Metro Vancouver transit police and CP rail police all attending the scene but there have been no arrests.

A Metro Vancouver Transit officer watches as a train passes on the westbound track. Protesters against the Coastal GasLink pipeline block the eastbound tracks on the CP rail bridge in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada February 13, 2020. JENNIFER GAUTHIER / REUTERS

B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, the MLA for Port Coquitlam, called the blockade a “disgrace” on Twitter Thursday night.

“Blocking West Coast Express is not lawful or peaceful protest, it is unacceptable and a disgrace,” Farnworth said.

Blockade organizers across Canada have said they’re acting in solidarity with those opposed to a pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation near Houston, B.C. The blockades have forced Canadian National Railway to shut down its entire network in Eastern Canada and Via Rail to cancel passenger service across the country.

Coastal GasLink is building a 670-kilometre pipeline from the Dawson Creek area in northern B.C. at an estimated cost of $6.6 billion. The project has the support of 20 elected band councils along the route. All of them have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink.

The protests, which have been sprouting up across the country, are in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are fighting to stop construction of the pipeline project.

On Monday, police in Vancouver and Delta arrested 57 protesters for taking part in blockades at Metro Vancouver ports in defiance of a court injunction.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority had received the injunction so port operations could resume in Vancouver and Delta.

Thursday’s rail yard blockade effectively cuts off east-west train service throughout Metro Vancouver, which would include rail shipments in and out of the ports.

When asked for comment Thursday night, a Canadian Pacific spokesperson told Postmedia that “CP is monitoring the situation.”

Protesters against the Coastal GasLink pipeline block the tracks on the CP rail bridge in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Francis Georgian / PNG

— With Canadian Press files

sbrown@postmedia.com

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