Pallister opposes '2-tier law' but feels frustration of Wet'suwet'en protesters

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the federal government needs a system that better listens to the frustrations of protesters like the ones blocking rail lines in support of Wet'suwet'en.

Protest camp west of Winnipeg has been shut down for now, says organizer; premier says CN filed for injunction

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says Ottawa needs a clear process that gives balance to the environmental impacts of resource applications in our country. (Mike Sudoma/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the federal government needs a system that better listens to the frustrations of protesters like the ones who blocked a rail line near Winnipeg Wednesday in support of Wet'suwet'en — a blockade the protesters say has now been removed.

"What's happening is that people are very frustrated because they're not understanding or feeling heard through a process that needs to give balance to the environmental impacts of resource applications in our country," he said.

"They're not separate from each other."

If there was a process in which people felt their concerns were being respected and understood, they would be less willing to flout the law, Pallister told reporters on Thursday.

About a dozen protesters lit a fire and set up a blockade Wednesday morning at a CN rail line about seven kilometres west of Winnipeg's Perimeter Highway.

They said they planned to stay until the RCMP leave the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en people in British Columbia, where on the weekend, police arrested more than 20 people blocking Coastal GasLink workers from accessing the traditional territory.

RCMP began enforcing a court order against those blocking construction on the pipeline last week, sparking solidarity protests across the country.

CN applied for injunction: Pallister

Pallister said Wednesday that Manitoba's Justice Department would seek an injunction to end the blockade near Winnipeg and have it enforced by police.

But on Thursday, he said the province learned CN had applied for an injunction and had it approved, making Manitoba's application unnecessary.

One of the Manitoba blockade's organizers, Harrison Powder, said Thursday the camp has been shut down for now. He believes the injunction was brought to the camp last night, although he was not there at the time.

"We're kind of really shocked at how fast it happened," he said.

Blockades in other provinces have caused the cancellation of more than 150 Via Rail passenger trains and forced a similar number of freight trains to sit idle.

Protesters have also shut down streets and bridges during heavy traffic times, frustrating drivers in their efforts to give the issue wider attention.

"This is in nobody's best interests," Pallister said.

"Our resources need to be developed in a responsible and sustainable way. There needs to be a process to deal with that, and right now, there is a process which is so cumbersome, so onerous that it's just causing incredible frustration for everybody."

Pallister said he will continue to call on the federal government to establish "a better process of dealing with important economic and environmental projects when they are being dealt with by our country."

"But we are clearly standing up against two-tier law in our country," he said.

About half a dozen protesters occupied a rail station along the CN line approximately seven kilometres west of Winnipeg on Wednesday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Asked whether he would seek injunctions if blockades are set up anywhere else in the province, Pallister said "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Powder said he's unsure about the next steps for the protesters who gathered Wednesday, but added that people should expect to see more solidarity protests in Winnipeg.

"We feel we have a right to be part of this nationwide call-out to support our relatives in B.C.," he said.

"People need to understand that this is happening for a reason … and that industry and police can't just be going and invading Indigenous territories and forcing pipelines through, when there are Indigenous leaders and community members opposed."

Sit-in continues at minister's office

Meanwhile, activists are continuing a sit-in at the federal northern affairs minister's office in Winnipeg over the pipeline issue. 

They say they want minister Dan Vandal to publicly condemn the actions of the RCMP in Wet'suwet'en traditional territory, and hope other parliamentarians use their powers to meet the demands of the hereditary chiefs.

Carter Graveline says they've spent about 220 hours at the office, and that a phone conversation with Vandal was "very frustrating." 

"It's more like, protecting the land and those that live on the land and protecting our water because the land and the water can't defend itself so we have to do that," said Bianca Ballantyne.

With files from Holly Caruk