A protester stands between Mohawk Warrior Society flags at a rail blockade on the tenth day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. The protest is in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Federal, B.C. ministers seek meeting with Wet’suwet’en in hope of blockade solution

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route

An upcoming meeting in British Columbia is emerging as the focal point for hopes of a speedy and peaceful end to the blockades that have disrupted rail and road traffic across large swaths of the country for more than a week.

The meeting, which would involve the federal and B.C. ministers responsible for Indigenous relations sitting down with First Nations opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, has yet to be scheduled.

That has raised questions about how long Ottawa, in particular, is willing to wait as pressure mounts on the federal Liberal government to end the protests due to the economic damage they are causing. The pipeline has support from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s elected band council but is opposed by the nation’s hereditary chiefs, who claim authority on traditional territory off the First Nation’s formal reserve.

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, reiterated her desire to meet with those opposed to the $6.6-billion natural-gas pipeline as she sat down Monday with B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser.

“We have reached out through a joint letter to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs about meeting with us at the earliest opportunity and are hopeful we can all work together to establish a process for ongoing and constructive dialogue and action to address the issues at hand,” the ministers said in a joint statement late Monday.

“Our primary focus is everyone’s safety and ultimately, a peaceful resolution to the situation.”

The two were invited last week to meet by Gitxsan chief Norm Stephens after members of the First Nation erected a blockade near New Hazelton in support of neighbouring Wet’suwet’en chiefs.

Bennett’s sitdown with Fraser in Victoria came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held an emergency, closed-door meeting with cabinet ministers in Ottawa to discuss the blockades.

Trudeau emerged from the meeting emphasizing his desire to find an end to the crisis, adding he had reached out to a number of premiers and Indigenous leaders to discuss the standoff. But the prime minister was tightlipped about his plan to reach that conclusion.

“I understand how worrisome this is for so many Canadians and difficult for many people and families across the country,” Trudeau said. “We’re going to continue to focus on resolving the situation quickly and peacefully, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The prime minister, who cancelled a two-day trip to Barbados this week to deal with the crisis at home, did not take any questions before being driven away by his RCMP security detail.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Justice Minister David Lametti and others who attended the meeting with Trudeau were similarly mum on how they planned to address the crisis.

The ministerial meetings in Ottawa and Victoria came as protesters continued to block rail lines as well as highways and bridges in different parts of the country. Those included shutting down for the first time the Thousand Islands Bridge border crossing near Kingston, Ont.

The Ontario Provincial Police indicated they didn’t plan on breaking up that protest, saying “the OPP has no role to play in the underlying issues of the event and is not in a position to resolve them.” Protesters lifted their blockade of the bridge in the afternoon.

Mounties in Manitoba also reported about eight to ten demonstrators at a CN Rail crossing on Highway 75 in southern Manitoba. The highway and rail line both run south to the U.S. border crossing at Emerson, Man.

RCMP spokesman Robert Cyrenne said police were stopping traffic for safety, but that vehicles were still able to pass in both directions. CN said train movement in the area had been stopped and that the company was “evaluating our legal options very closely.”

The RCMP said it had deployed a liaison team to the site to “establish a dialogue and maintain open and ongoing communication.”

Police have largely refrained from direct action against the blockades since the RCMP enforced an injunction outside Houston, B.C. earlier this month, where opponents of the Coastal GasLink project were preventing access to a work site for the pipeline.

While more than 20 people were arrested and the company is preparing to resume work, the RCMP raid sparked more protests and blockades across the country.

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s council. But Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs are opposed to the project and say the council does not have authority over the relevant land.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who met Saturday with representatives of the Mohawk First Nation near Belleville, Ont., where a rail blockade has shut down train service across much of Eastern Canada, has invoked the Oka and Ipperwash crises in pressing for a peaceful solution.

A Quebec police officer died during a raid in 1990 after Mohawks south of Montreal blocked the Mercier Bridge, which became the Oka crisis.

Five years later, an Ontario Provincial Police officer shot and killed protester Dudley George during a standoff over a land claim by Chippewa protesters outside a Ipperwash Provincial Park.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en and B.C. government have been talking Aboriginal title for a year

— with reporting by Nicole Thompson in Toronto, Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton and Amy Smart in Vancouver.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLink

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

COVID-19: Should non-medical masks be mandatory in Canada?

New poll shows Canadians are divided on the rules around mandatory masks

Rosslanders celebrate Canada Day in style

Locals organized a museum scavenger hunt, a Mt. Roberts flag-raising ceremony and evening fireworks

Hwy 1 flooding causes massive delays on certain Arrow Lakes ferry routes

Motorists have been waiting around three hours to get on ferries

Rossland Museum and Discovery Centre expands operations online

The facility also opened back up to the public earlier in June

Rossland’s Sourdough Alley a ‘muddy collection of shacks’

Rossland’s earliest thoroughfare was once derided as a ‘muddy collection of shacks’

B.C. accommodators need phone lines to light up as in-province travel given green light

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the tourism and hospitality industries

300 Cache Creek residents on evacuation alert due to flood risk as river rises

Heavy rainfall on Canada Day has river rising steadily, threatening 175 properties

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Most Read