British Columbia

CN lawsuit alleges $270M in freight was hit by rail blockade in northern B.C.

A CN Rail lawsuit says a two day rail blockade in New Hazelton, B.C., in February affected almost 5,000 freight cars, carrying $270 million in commodities.

Major rail line was blocked in February by protesters supporting anti-pipeline movement

CN's main line in New Hazelton was blocked in February. (Photo by Lillian Granley)

CN Rail is suing protesters who allegedly blocked dozens of its trains in northern B.C. in February in support of the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

The railway company said a two-day protest action in New Hazelton affected nearly 5,000 freight cars, stranding the Port of Prince Rupert and backing up rail traffic as far east as Winnipeg. 

CN filed the civil suit in February against unnamed demonstrators who blocked the major rail line with lawn chairs, tents and pallets between Smithers and Terrace on Feb. 8 and 9.

CN claims it suffered "significant economic damage." The railway said it transports freight worth $135 million a day along the line from B.C.'s North Coast port to Canadian and U.S. markets.

In February, anti-pipeline protesters blocking rail lines near Belleville, Ont., and New Hazelton, B.C., forced CN Rail to temporarily shut down parts of its network. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The railway is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages, a permanent injunction against rail blockaders' "unlawful and unauthorized" conduct, and an enforcement order for police.

"CN is and will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted," according to the civil claim.

None of the allegations has been proven in court. A statement of defence has yet to be filed.

The court document also makes reference to the economic impact of protest actions in the Vancouver area. 

CN says there were more than 30 blockades on its network in February in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs trying to stop a pipeline across their traditional territories in northern B.C. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Soon after the northern rail blockade ended, CN states that protesters gathered on its southern line near the Burrard track on Feb. 10. The company said it temporarily suspended rail service there out of concern for public safety, disrupting operations at the Port of Vancouver.

"This is a serious issue to be tried regarding the unlawful and unauthorized trespassing to its lands, [and] the interference with its business," the claim stated. 

In a financial update this week, CN discussed the economic impact of numerous rail blockades nationwide in February, all mounted in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

"The illegal blockades really had an unfortunate impact on us,'' said CN chief financial officer Ghislain Houle.

Houle noted there were more than 30 rail blockades in February, halting rail traffic in many parts of the country.

CN shut down its eastern network on Feb. 13, one week into a blockade by the Tyendinaga Mohawk First Nation that cut a key rail link east of Belleville, Ont.

In March, a report from the Parliamentary Budget Office said the series of rail blockades would leave a minimal dent in the pace of economic growth. 

The report estimated the blockades would shave two-tenths of a percentage point off economic growth for the first quarter, with the effects dissipating through the rest of 2020

New data from Statistics Canada released Wednesday showed that in February, the country's transportation sector shrank by 1.1. per cent as some rail traffic was halted across the country during rail blockades.

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People arrive at a train track blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., in February. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that CN Rail's lawsuit was filed this week. In fact, the civil claim was filed Feb. 10. On April 30, the court decided to set a date for resolving the matter in June.
    May 01, 2020 10:40 AM PT

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous national and provincial journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary. Based out of Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.

With files from The Canadian Press and Jodi Muzylowski