Protesters end Hamilton rail blockade; highway 6 blockade at Caledonia continues

The protesters are supporting Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in opposition of building the $6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, and have been restricting the transport of goods across the country over the past two weeks.

Provincial police say protest was a 'solidarity demonstration blockade'

Rail blockade disrupts Ontario commuter trains

3 years ago
Duration 4:06
Protesters lit tires on fire in the middle of the tracks near Tyendinaga, Ont., adamant that their blockades in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en First Nation will continue. A new blockade was established west of Toronto, disrupting the commuter GO Trains near Hamilton.

The protestors who shut down GO Transit out of Hamilton early Tuesday "peacefully" left the area at about 5 p.m. according to Hamilton police, ending a blockade of a key commuter and freight railway link.

Jackie Penman, a corporate communicator with Hamilton police, tells CBC News police had an "ongoing discussion" with the demonstrators.

"We encouraged protesters to abide by the injunction submitted by CN rail," she says.

"We're just happy the blockade is clear and they left peacefully."

It's still unclear what prompted protestors to leave. She says Hamilton police are investigating the rail blockade and ask anyone with information to come forward.

Metrolinx spokesperson Scott Money tells CBC News it's not clear when GO trains beyond Aldershot GO will resume operation but says all other lines are running, albeit with some delays. 

Protest caused major transit delays

The protest was in response to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) moving to end a blockade by the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, of a rail line near Belleville, Ont. on Monday.

During the Hamilton blockade, which began Monday afternoon, a group of about a dozen people huddled around fires on the tracks by Hamilton Harbour, with green tarps strung up across between them and a pair of police cars parked to the side.

Throughout the morning Tuesday, small groups of people made their way down the muddy hillside to join the protest, some wrapped in blankets, while others hauled firewood or wagons packed with supplies.

Protesters block rail tracks in Hamilton in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposing the building of a $6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in B.C.. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Marcia Hicks was carrying a cooler bag with drinks and snacks as well as a sleeping bag.

She was only able to join the protest for a few hours, but said she came out because she's been following the news about Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory in northern B.C.

The situation resonated with her own concerns about the environment and investment in oil, she said.

"This also has to do with how our government responds to people that are in opposition to the way they're handling business," she added, saying she believes the situation has been handled "extremely poorly."

Hicks said the arrests in Tyendinaga show the protests shouldn't be solved through a "violent process."

"When people get to this place they're a bit desperate," she said. "They've really tried, and I think that … they really have tired with every peaceful means so it's kind of at the end of the rope for them."

On Tuesday morning, GO Transit announced on its website that "As the result of the ongoing police investigation along the tracks between Aldershot GO and Hamilton GO, our trains will not be able to service Niagara Falls GO, St. Catharines GO, Hamilton GO or West Harbour GO stations on Tuesday morning."

GO Train service was also suspended on Milton and the Lakeshore East corridor between Union and Pickering for a short time due to safety incidents near Guildwood in Scarborough and Kipling in Etobicoke.

The transit service arranged for buses to shuttle commuters from the Hamilton GO stations to nearby Aldershot station.

Protesters man a rail blockade near Hamilton, Ont., on Feb. 25, 2020, disrupting GO Transit on the morning commute. The protest is in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project in B.C. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Hamilton GO blockade was organized by a local anarchist collective. It started late Monday afternoon and prevented westbound trains from getting to Hamilton at the end of the Monday commute.

Larissa Fenn, HOPA's director of public affairs, tells CBC News the delays had the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority and terminal partners bracing for impact as the blockade would have prevented incoming gas products and resources for food processing and construction.

She said "terminal partners" were "concerned" about the situation, and some were "lining up other options to move goods should it become necessary. In most cases, the most likely alternative would be a truck."

"That's not sustainable in the long term, and an extended disruption would likely have effects on consumer gas stations, road projects, and other everyday uses."

The blockade would have affected the roughly 2,100 people who work in the area.

Protestors served with multiple court injunctions

Police presented the protesters with an CN injunction Monday evening to leave the site. In a release the service said it continued a dialogue with the protesters Tuesday.

A Facebook page called Wet'suwet'en Strong: Hamilton in Solidarity has been posting about the protest since it began. In an update Tuesday morning the group said it started the day by burning that very injunction.

Const. Jerome Stewart, centre, speaks with a group of people who were trying to bring snacks and supplies to the protesters on the tracks. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Hamilton police spokesperson Const. Jerome Stewart said in a scrum at the scene Tuesday morning that officers were at the scene to maintain safety and a "peaceful environment."

"Hamilton police do respect the right of people's freedom of assembly and a peaceful assembly. However we have a court injunction that's in place and we're here to enforce that injunction if need…" Stewart said before trailing off. "Hopefully we don't get to that stage, hopefully people will leave the area peacefully."

Sonia Hill, who identifies as Mohawk from Six Nations of Grand River, sang medicine songs Monday night before voluntarily leaving.

The 24-year-old, who is a teaching assistant in sociology at McMaster University, said Six Nations will defend their land indefinitely and she will support them, despite fears of being arrested.

"I'm coming back tomorrow... I'm going to bring my students, make it a part of their credit, their attendance [to] check in with me at the blockade."

 McMaster University said while students and faculty are free to participate in demonstrations, a student's grade can't be conditional on whether they do.

Cancellations and delays 

The Facebook page posting about the protest said protesters were shutting down the rail lines because of the "violence perpetrated towards Indigenous land defenders and their supporters" and the "forced removal and criminalization of Indigenous people from their lands."

The post adds "disruption is what we MUST turn to," in order to make change and said the protesters will be in place as long as possible.

Blockade at Highway 6 in Caledonia

Indigenous solidarity protesters have shut down GO Train service in Hamilton and Niagara with a solidarity blockade in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposing the building of a $6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in B.C. (David Ritchie)

Highway 6 at Caledonia also remained blocked Tuesday morning.

Rodney Leclair, an OPP media relations officer, said Monday that the Caledonia protest was a "solidarity demonstration blockade."

Highway 6 is closed between Argyle Street South and Greens Road in Caledonia. The protest is close to the Six Nations reserve just outside Caledonia on the bypass over the Grand River.

The OPP tweeted just after 3 p.m. Tuesday that the highway was also blocked at First Line in Hagersville.

"Please be patient if impacted," the message advised.

Colleen Davis, a member of the Mohawk Nation (Bear Clan), said the highway will be blocked until the demands of the Wet'suwet'en are met.

"The onus is now on Justin Trudeau, on the OPP, on the RCMP to withdraw from our territories," she said.

"We have our own self-governing systems that we abide by and that's what we are standing up for. That's how we're going to get things moving forward … if they can come appreciate and acknowledged the true title owners of the lands."

Davis added the interactions with the OPP have been good so far.

"Safety is the main concern and that's the same for us. We're here in peaceful protest."

Indigenous protesters near Six Nations of the Grand River blocked Highway 6 in Caledonia, Ont. show their support for the Wet'suwet'en protests on Feb. 25, 2020. (Colin Cote-Paulette)

Bettee Giles, 71, lives in Caledonia and says she saw a similar demonstration last week. She told CBC News she spent an hour in traffic because of it, but the demonstration didn't upset her.

"They were standing there very peacefully," she said.

Sonia Hill says they won't stop fighting.

"Until RCMP are cleared off Wet'suwet'en land ... we'll continue to stand here in Hamilton, we'll continue to stand across Turtle Island and block the rails. This is not it; Hamilton is not it at all." 
Darien Bardy and Sonia Hill participate in the Six Nations of Grand River demonstration along CN rail lines between Burlington, Ont., and Hamilton. The blockade interrupted GO Transit service Monday night and Tuesday morning. (David Ritchie)


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

With files from Catharine Tunney