Canada

Wet’suwet’en rail barricades 'must now come down', Justin Trudeau says

OTTAWA—Calling the situation “unacceptable and untenable,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for the ongoing Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades to come down as he laments how the government’s efforts to negotiate a resolution have failed.

“Every attempt at dialogue has been made, but discussions have not been productive. We can’t have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table,” Trudeau said at the National Press Theatre on Parliament Hill Friday afternoon.

“Everyone involved is worried. Canadians have been patient, our government has been patient. But it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now.”

For several days, the federal government has been offering to send Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs about their opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Police enforcement of a court order to clear a blockade to construction of the project has sparked demonstrations across the country, with rail blockades halting the flow of goods and people in Ontario, Quebec and beyond.

Trudeau said Friday that the RCMP in B.C. are fulfilling a Wet’suwet’en demand by pulling a detachment out of the area where construction was contested, and said the “onus” is now on Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their Mohawk supporters in Eastern Canada to come to the table and accept the government’s long-standing offer of dialogue.

“The barricades must now come down. The injunctions must be obeyed, and the law must be upheld,” Trudeau said, adding later in French that it would be “lamentable” if police need to step in to clear the blockades.

“We have exhausted our capacity to engage in a positive, substantive, active way at our initiative to resolve this. The onus has now shifted onto Indigenous leadership to look to continue this path of reconciliation in this … situation,” Trudeau said.

As Trudeau spoke, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were preparing to address the media themselves after meeting with activists blocking the Canadian National rail line in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. A similar blockade continued south of Montreal Friday in Saint-Lambert, a situation that Quebec Premier François-Legault said Friday that he hopes will be resolved “rapidly” by provincial police.

A Wet’suwet’en wing chief told the Star this week that the hereditary leadership of the nation won’t meet with government ministers until the RCMP are fully removed from their territory and that work on the Coastal GasLink is suspended to allow for negotiations of land use on their traditional territory.

Pressure has been mounting on Ottawa to find a way to resolve the situation. Trudeau heeded calls from the country’s premiers to discuss the ongoing situation Thursday night, when the 13 first ministers convened with the prime minister in a conference call. Speaking Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Trudeau told them the government’s “patience is wearing thin” and that action will be required “within hours and not days.”

In B.C., Premier Horgan told reporters his government remains ready to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and acknowledged the “challenge” officials have faced in trying to negotiate when Indigenous leaders have not accepted their outstanding invitation to sit down and talk.

In an interview with the Star, Tyendinaga Mohawk Council Chief Donald Maracle said Friday that the media needs to give the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and activists in his community time to speak with government and police authorities to resolve the situation. The protest camp set up in his community has blocked rail traffic since Feb. 6, forcing Via Rail to suspend passenger service and for CN Rail to cancel hundreds of trains. Both companies have issued temporary layoff notices affecting 1,500 people in recent days, as good normally carried by train languish and businesses call on the government to resolve the blockades.

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Maracle said the hereditary chiefs need to sit down with the government “on an urgent basis” to find a solution.

“I want to see a peaceful resolution come out of it soon,” he said.

“The economy is suffering. I’m sure that people want to go home. I’m sure that they want to get back to their normal lives.”

With files from The Canadian Press