British Columbia

Blockade supporting Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs continues to halt rail traffic in northwestern B.C.

A protest near New Hazelton, B.C., in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, is blocking CN Rail's main line through the northern part of the province, halting transport between Prince George and Prince Rupert. 

CN Rail and VIA Rail services between Prince George and Prince Rupert have been stopped

The train tracks have been blocked near New Hazelton, B.C., since Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Lillian Granley)

A protest near New Hazelton, B.C., in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, is blocking CN Rail's main line through the northern part of the province, halting transport between Prince George and Prince Rupert. 

CN says the B.C. blockade — in protest of a natural gas pipeline being built on traditional Wet'suwet'en territory — and blockades happening in eastern Canada, are forcing them to close "significant" parts of their rail system across the country, with nearly 200 trains affected. 

J.J. Ruest, president and CEO of CN Rail, said in a statement Tuesday that CN has obtained court injunctions that allow police to remove the protesters so that rail traffic can resume.

Via Rail announced Tuesday evening that rail travel between Prince Rupert and Prince George has been halted until further notice.

Blockades in B.C. and Ontario have caused 157 Via trains to be cancelled, leaving 24,000 passengers in the lurch so far.

A spokesperson for Via Rail said passengers whose trips have been cancelled will be contacted by email and will receive a full refund.

Meanwhile, Coastal GasLink announced its workers will be returning to work this week in the injunction area, after 28 arrests were made to clear access to the site.

However, work remains severely disrupted at the Port of Prince Rupert, where freight is no longer able to get in and out by train due to the blockade on the rail tracks near New Hazelton.

Protesters supporting Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs sit on the tracks of the main rail line for northern B.C. (Photo by Lillian Granley)

Shaun Stevenson, CEO of the Port of Prince Rupert, said even though their port is not involved with the Coastal GasLink project, its operations and workforce have been heavily impacted by the blockade that's been in place since Saturday afternoon.

"The unintended consequences is it severely impacted the operations of the Port of Prince Rupert and we're very concerned about our ability to continue to operate and offer the service that [has contributed] to our growth and success as a port," he said.

Stevenson said 40 per cent of the workforce at the port is Indigenous, and 3,600 jobs are directly being affected in Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers.

He added that he hopes a resolution can be reached peacefully and operations can start again soon.

"We have in excess of 6,000 people that rely on the Port of Prince Rupert, its operations and its modes and nodes of transportation, for their livelihood in northern B.C.," he told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"The economic vitality of northern B.C. depends on the port."

'We have in excess of 6,000 people that rely on the Port of Prince Rupert, its operations and its modes and nodes of transportation, for their livelihood in northern B.C.,' said Shaun Stevenson, CEO of the Port of Prince Rupert. (Matt Allen/CBC)

In Dawson Creek, Kathleen Connolly, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, said people are keeping a close eye on things.

"We are a commodity based economy in the northeast. So we've got grain that has got to get out of here and we've got lumber that's got to get on a rail car and out of here," she said.

"[We're] not panicking, but we're certainly watching it very, very carefully."

'This is my territory': hereditary chief

Gitxsan Nation hereditary Chief Spookw, who has been at the blockade near New Hazelton, said all the rail and port disruptions would not have happened if there had been "proper consultation with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs," and not just the band councils.

The natural gas pipeline project was approved by the province and 20 First Nation band councils signed agreements in support of the project, including five of the six band councils in the Wet'suwet'en Nation. 

"They're using the bands as a means to force the pipeline through," Chief Spookw told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton.

He said the group at the blockade has been served a court order to leave, but no one has forced them to move yet.

"This is my territory here where we're standing ... there's a sign over there as we cross onto this land that says no trespassing," said Chief Spookw.

"This railway cuts right through my territory, my house's territory. They're telling me I'm trespassing on my own land."

With files from Betsy Trumpener, Daybreak North and Radio West