Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the time has come to end the Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades that have shut down railroads across the country for two weeks.
His comments to reporters come as pressure mounts on the government to act to end the blockades and as even members of the Liberal Party have begun to use language in recent days suggesting the patience the government has asked Canadians for is wearing thin.
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“Every attempt at dialogue has been made but discussions have not been productive. We cannot have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table,” said Trudeau in a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.
“The fact remains: the barricades must now come down. The injunctions must be obeyed and the law must be upheld. Let me be clear, our resolve to pursue the reconciliation agenda with indigenous people is as strong as ever.”
Several hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in B.C. oppose the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline set to be built through the land they claim as their traditional territory. But the elected band councils for that and 20 other First Nations communities along the route support the project.
The result has been tension over which group speaks for the interests of the community.
Those tensions escalated after RCMP enforced a court injunction last month that let them begin removing activists from a blockade set up on the pipeline route.
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The arrests sparked nationwide protests and blockades that have intermittently shut down border crossings, railroad lines and service, barred access to government buildings, and prompted provincial leaders to warn about looming shortages of essentials like propane.
Trudeau said the federal government continues to believe that dialogue is the best solution and will continue to be available to speak with Indigenous leaders.
“That is what we have done,” he said.
“But we cannot continue to watch Canadians suffer.”
More than 1,000 rail workers have been laid off by Via Rail and CN Rail as a result of the blockades, which forced the companies to shut down the majority of their rail service — both passenger and freight — across the country.
And while the RCMP in B.C. have agreed to a demand by some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the project for the force to leave the site of the barricades it has erected on the pipeline route, Trudeau said the efforts of the government and police are not yielding any results.
He said the responsibility now lies with Indigenous leaders and with police.
“The intervention in the case of the Tyendinaga blockade is the responsibility of the Ontario Provincial Police,” he said.
“We continue to be hopeful that the leadership within these Indigenous communities will find a way to bring down these barricades peacefully but as a federal government we have exhausted our capacity to engage in a positive, substantive, active way.”
More to come.
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