Railway blockades 'not a safe practice,' says CN Rail executive
Blockade near Lettelier, Man. forced freight train to stop within 300 metres of protesters, says VP Sean Finn
Demonstrators forming blockades along rail lines in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have to understand the safety risks posed by being close to the tracks, says a CN Rail executive.
On Feb. 6, RCMP enforced a court order and raid camps of Wet'suwet'en supporters so Coastal GasLink could start building a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline. Dozens of people were arrested.
Blockades started forming throughout Canada as another way to show solidarity and protest what is happening in northern B.C.
"It's important for all Canadians to realize that as you decide to protest, you have the right to do so peacefully, but getting on to an operating railway line... is not a safe practice," said Sean Finn, who is the executive vice-president of corporate services and chief legal officer for CN.
"We are more pre-occupied that these blockades are popping up sometimes unannounced," Finn added on CBC's Information Radio Monday morning.
He cited a blockade that suddenly popped up Sunday roughly 80 kilometres south of Winnipeg, near Letellier, Man., which forced a CN freight train to stop within 300 metres of the demonstrators.
"Luckily the crew was attentive enough to see [the blockade] and stop the train," Finn said.
The blockade near Lettelier cleared out by about 5 p.m. Sunday after being served a court injunction, and is the second railway blockade to fold in the province this week.
The first was situated at a CN rail line about seven kilometres west of Winnipeg's Perimeter Highway. It ended last Thursday after the courts granted an injunction.
Economic impact unknown
The freight company is focused on the economic impact blockades are posing on its customers, and has yet to quantify the impact on CN itself, Finn says.
That said, the blockades are clearly backing things up. Last week, a blockade in Belleville, Ont. — now on its 12th day — even forced temporary shut downs to both VIA and CN Rail service lines.
CN's entire network east of Toronto was affected and may result in temporary layoffs of its workers. Teamsters Canada, the union which represents over 16,000 workers in the rail industry, said roughly 6,000 layoffs could come from the shut down.
But as blockades in other parts of Canada start clearing up, it will take "several days, if not weeks" to make up the delays, Finn said, adding that "as soon as these blockades are lifted, we have to be ready to move these goods because Canada's economy depends on it, but also our reputation abroad."
Many products are going to the ports in Halifax to be exported overseas. Grains from Manitoba are being shipped to Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C. to be shipped out from the west coast, Finn explained.
Meanwhile, CN Rail is working with the federal government to do what it can to help clear the blockades, Finn said, noting that its first priority is to the company's operations.
With files from Pat Kaniuga