An emergency meeting of cabinet ministers to discuss anti-pipeline blockades that have shut down swaths of the country’s train system broke up at mid-day in Ottawa Monday, with participants tight-lipped about what they’d decided.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had previously said the “Incident Response Group” would talk about how to handle the protests against a planned natural-gas pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are opposed to the project.
The group was described upon its inception in 2018 as a “dedicated, emergency committee that will convene in the event of a national crisis or during incidents elsewhere that have major implications for Canada.”
Trudeau cancelled a planned two-day trip to Barbados, where he was to meet with Caribbean leaders to campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
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As the Mohawk-led blockade on Tyendinaga territory continued near Belleville, Ont., on Monday, Wet’suwet’en supporters across the country geared up for solidarity events. In Toronto, a march to the legislature has been planned for the afternoon, while in Montreal, some were preparing to gather at McGill University. A rally was also planned for Ottawa’s Confederation Park in the afternoon.
Meantime, there’s mounting political pressure for Trudeau to put an end to the blockades.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke with Trudeau late Sunday and issued a statement urging the federal government to take action.
“Premier Ford asked the prime minister to take immediate action and provide detail on a clear plan to ensure an end to this national issue,” the statement read.
Canada’s Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller after meeting with representatives of the Mohawk Nation at the site of a rail stoppage on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, as part of a protest against British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Tyendinaga, Ontario, Canada February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said last week that Trudeau should tell Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to use his authority under the RCMP Act to end what he called the “illegal blockades.”
But Trudeau shot back, arguing that Canada is not a country “where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters.”
Thus far, the public-facing part of Trudeau’s plan appears to centre on discussions and negotiations, rather than police action.
Carolyn Bennett, the minister for Crown-Indigenous relations, is due to meet with her British Columbia counterpart today, Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser. Bennett is also ready to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, should they give the go-ahead.
In Ontario, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met Mohawk Nation representatives for hours on Saturday and said they made “modest progress.” The focus of their talks, he said, was on the pipeline in northern B.C. rather than the blockade on Tyendinaga territory near Belleville, Ont., which was at that point in its 10th day.
Miller pointed to the Oka and Ipperwash crises as reasons why dialogue is preferable to police intervention, in a Sunday appearance on CTV’s political show “Question Period.”
A police officer died during a police raid in 1990 when Mohawks at the Kahnawake reserve south of Montreal blocked the Mercier Bridge into the city, which became the Oka crisis. Five years later at Ipperwash, Ont., one man was killed during a standoff over a land claim by Chippewa protesters outside a provincial park.
“Thirty years ago, police moved in in Kahnesatake and someone died,” Miller said. “And did we learn from that? Did we learn from Ipperwash?”
But while Ontario Provincial Police have so far declined to enforce injunctions and remove protesters from that blockade, RCMP in B.C. have made more than two dozen arrests while enforcing similar injunctions near worksites for the pipeline at the centre of the dispute.
A timeline on rail disruptions by anti-pipeline protesters across Canada:
RCMP began enforcing an injunction earlier this month that prevents interference with construction of a $6.6-billion natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.
Here is a timeline of the dispute, along with rail disruptions by people showing solidarity with the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs opposing the Coastal GasLink project:
Dec. 31, 2019 — The B.C. Supreme Court grants Coastal GasLink an injunction calling for the removal of any obstructions including cabins and gates on any roads, bridges or work sites the company has been authorized to use.
Jan. 1, 2020 — The Wet’suwet’en First Nation serves Coastal GasLink with an eviction notice, telling the company workers are “currently trespassing” on their unceded territory.
Jan. 27 — The British Columbia government appoints former New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen as a provincial liaison with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in the LNG pipeline dispute.
Jan. 30 — The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en agree to seven days of meetings with the province.
Feb. 5 — The talks that were intended to de-escalate the dispute fail after just two days.
Feb. 6 — Protesters outside of Belleville, Ont., east of Toronto, start holding up railway traffic.
Feb. 7 — Via Rail halts service along one of its busiest routes because of the Belleville-area blockade. All travel between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal is cancelled. Canadian National Railway obtains a court injunction to end a demonstration by members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville. Protesters also begin disruptions at ports in Vancouver and Delta, B.C.
Feb. 8 — Protesters in Toronto disrupt Canadian Pacific Railway traffic moving through the downtown.
Feb. 9 — Kahnawake Mohawk community members south of Montreal erect a blockade on a CP rail line.
Feb. 10 — Demonstrators in the Montreal area disrupt commuter train service on the Exo Candiac line. A shuttle bus service is in effect for affected rail stations.
Feb. 11 — CN stops transport between Prince George, B.C., and Prince Rupert, B.C., because of a blockade near Hazelton, B.C. The company says it has halted more than 150 freight trains since blockades started on Feb. 6.
Feb. 12 — The Manitoba government says it may seek a court injunction to end a blockade on a rail line west of Winnipeg, but CN obtains its own court order. The RCMP also formally end enforcement operations in a region of northern B.C. that’s at the centre of the pipeline dispute. Two hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs start a constitutional challenge of fossil fuel projects, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls for demonstrators across the country to observe the rule of law.
Feb. 13 — CN shuts down its operations in Eastern Canada. The railway says blockades have ended in Manitoba and may come down soon in British Columbia, but the orders of a court in Ontario have yet to be enforced and continue to be ignored.
Feb. 14 — A rail blockade that halted train traffic to and from the Port of Prince Rupert is lifted as First Nations leaders agree to meet with federal and provincial politicians. A date for that sit-down is to be arranged. CN spokesman Jonathan Abecassis says the blockade was removed overnight.
Feb. 15 — Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says “modest progress” was made in talks with the Mohawk First Nation over a rail blockade that’s shut down train service across much of Eastern Canada. But Miller declined to say what progress was made after nine hours of meetings on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., saying he would deliver that message to Trudeau directly.
Feb. 16 — Trudeau cancels his planned trip to Barbados, less than 24 hours before his scheduled departure, so he can handle the protests in Canada. Meanwhile, protesters briefly shut down a busy Ontario border crossing.
Feb. 17 — Trudeau convenes the Incident Response Group, an emergency committee that meets in the event of a national crisis.