Manitoba protesters blockade CN Rail line, demand RCMP leave Wet'suwet'en territory
CN rail lines in B.C. and Ontario have also been blocked by Wet'suwet'en supporters in the last week
A Manitoba railway just outside Winnipeg is being blocked by a group of protesters to show support for the Wet'suwet'en in British Columbia, whose hereditary leaders are fighting construction of a pipeline through their traditional territory.
About a dozen protesters lit a fire Wednesday morning and are occupying an area near a crossing of a CN rail line about seven kilometres west of the Perimeter Highway, on Wilkes Avenue.
The protesters said they won't end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en people in B.C., where police arrested more than 20 people over the weekend who were blocking Coastal GasLink workers from accessing the traditional territory.
RCMP began enforcing a court order against those blocking construction on the pipeline last Thursday, sparking protests across the country.
"We're here showing solidarity for other Indigenous people, for other Indigenous nations — First Nations whose territories were invaded by RCMP [and] Coastal GasLinks," said Harrison Powder, one of the Manitoba blockade participants.
"They violated Indigenous laws, Indigenous lands, and Indigenous rights, and that kind of stuff has to be protested against. We have to stand up against that," he said.
"We want the RCMP out of there."
Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters filled Winnipeg's downtown streets to show support for Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who are trying to stop construction of the pipeline.
Blockades in other provinces have cancelled more than 150 Via Rail passenger trains and forced a similar number of freight trains to sit idle.
CN Rail's president and CEO, J.J. Ruest, told CBC News on Tuesday that the protests threaten industry across the country, including the transport of everything from food to construction materials to natural resources.
On Wednesday, CN Rail said train movements in the area of the Manitoba protest are currently stopped.
"We are monitoring the situation and evaluating our legal options very closely," a spokesperson said in an email.
While the blockade is focused on the CN line, protesters are set up at a spot where it intersects with a CP Rail line.
CP Rail said it is monitoring the situation, but wouldn't say if any of its trains would be affected.
'A long time coming'
The Manitoba protesters, who gathered Wednesday as bitter winds made it feel as cold as –44, hope to send a message to the federal government, as well as RCMP and industry leaders.
"When you invade Indigenous territory, and you try to force pipelines on our people, there's consequences to that, and this here today is one of those consequences," said Powder.
"This has been a long time coming, these blockades. Our people have been saying for years 'we can shut down this country, we can stop the economy, we can cause major economic damage' — and it's happening now."
Both Manitoba RCMP and CN Rail police were at the blockade Wednesday. An RCMP spokesperson said officers were there to monitor the protest and keep the peace.
"The Manitoba RCMP has sent Division Liaison Team (DLT) officers to the protest site," the spokesperson said in an email. "The role of the DLT officers is to establish a dialogue and maintain open and ongoing communication."
Province will seek injunction
The Manitoba government said Wednesday it plans to seek a court injunction to end the blockade.
Premier Brian Pallister says the province's Justice Department will seek to obtain an injunction and have it enforced within a few days.
He says he respects the rights of protesters, but laws need to be applied.
"The point is to make sure that we're standing up for the freedoms and rights of all people, and not standing back while two-tier justice happens in our province," Pallister told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
"As much as we will always respect the right of protesters to have a voice, they don't have a veto and … they don't have the right to put their rights ahead of everyone else and to disregard the laws of our province and country."
With files from The Canadian Press