Politics

Arrests, travel disruptions as Wet'suwet'en solidarity protests spread across Canada

Transportation disruptions spread across the country Tuesday, as demonstrators continued to protest in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a $6-billion natural gas pipeline project in northern B.C.

New demonstrations came after police moved to dismantle a blockade near Belleville, Ont.

Police arrest a protester after a demonstration blocked a commuter rail track in north Toronto on Tuesday. The action was in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and the Tyendinaga Mohawks amid ongoing disputes over the construction of the $6-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern B.C. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Transportation disruptions spread across the country Tuesday, as demonstrators continued to protest in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a $6-billion natural gas pipeline project in northern B.C.

A day after police descended on a rail blockade near Belleville, Ont., arresting 10 protesters, new disturbances popped up across the country in response, including in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

Fresh blockades caused major delays on the Greater Toronto Area's GO Transit system as the busy afternoon rush hour got underway Tuesday.

A spokesperson for regional transit agency Metrolinx, which operates the popular commuter rail line, said at least three routes were experiencing significant slowdowns, causing crowding at Union Station, a major travel hub in downtown Toronto.

Service was also affected on a route west of the city earlier Tuesday, with police in Hamilton serving a court injunction to protesters who set up a blockade along rail lines there.

Protesters are arrested for blocking the Port of Vancouver on Tuesday amid demonstrations in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

About a dozen people, including some from the Six Nations of the Grand River, had gathered on the tracks, affecting GO train service between Hamilton and Niagara Falls. The blockade temporarily forced the cancellation of service at the Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton or West Harbour stations and also affected CN and CP rail service.

A Facebook page called "Wet'suwet'en Strong: Hamilton in Solidarity" said the protesters shut 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 protesters had peacefully left the site by Tuesday evening, Hamilton police said.

In nearby Caledonia, Ont., protesters had also blocked a section of Highway 6.

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.

Arrests in B.C.

In British Columbia, nearly two dozen people were arrested after refusing to leave blockades across the province on Tuesday. Demonstrations were taking place at the Port of Vancouver, the ceremonial front steps to the B.C. Legislature and some rural rail lines across the province. 

Six people were taken into custody after police moved to clear a key entrance to the Port of Vancouver early Tuesday afternoon.

Members of the Listuguj Mi'kmaq Nation blocked a regional rail line that runs between Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula and New Brunswick on Tuesday. (Luc Paradis/Radio-Canada)

Three others were arrested after blocking a CP Rail line in the B.C. Interior. RCMP arrested 14 more demonstrators, including a hereditary chief, near New Hazelton, B.C., overnight.

Those three blockades have since ended, though the demonstration at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria continues.

Protests expand in Quebec

Anti-pipeline protests in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs had also expanded in Quebec, with blockades in Lennoxville, in the Eastern Townships, and Listuguj, on the Gaspé Peninsula.

Police were moving in to enforce injunctions to end the blockades on Tuesday afternoon.

WATCH | Transport Minister Marc Garneau says police will move on new blockades:

Transport Minister Marc Garneau spoke with the CBC's Julie Van Dusen after question period on Tuesday 0:37

Earlier Tuesday, a Quebec Superior Court judge granted an injunction against a blockade along a Canadian Pacific rail line in the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, which has disrupting both freight and commuter rail services between Montreal and several communities to the south for weeks.

The injunction took effect immediately, but it was not immediately clear if it would be enforced.

At a public meeting in Kahnawake Monday night, the head of the Mohawk Peackeepers police service said it had no intention of enforcing a court order against the protesters.

In a statement, CP Rail said that despite obtaining the injunction, it is encouraging peaceful dialogue to resolve the matter. The company also said it secured the injunction to deal with any so-called copycat blockades that may emerge in the future.

A fire burns on the recently opened CN tracks in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., on Monday. Earlier Monday police removed a rail blockade in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Still, on Tuesday, Premier François Legault raised the possibility that Quebec's provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec, would get involved.

"The barricades have to be dismantled for the good of the economy," he said. "There is an urgency to re-establish [rail] service. The Quebec economy is losing $100 million daily. There are people suffering."

On Monday, the the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake put out a statement condemning police actions against the Tyendinaga Mohawks near Belleville, Ont., and Trudeau's public call on Friday for all blockades to come down.

"We cannot state strongly enough our extreme disappointment in the absolute lack of good faith shown by a prime minister who continually expresses his government's priority is improving its relationship with Indigenous Peoples," it read.

"What has happened over the past few days has, in fact, undone progress in building relations with Indigenous Peoples."

WATCH | Pipeline supporter says hereditary chiefs don't speak for Wet'suwet'en

A former councillor for another B.C. band says there's an internal dispute between Wet'suwet'en elected and hereditary leaders. 6:30

The new protests came after Ontario Provincial Police had descended Monday on a rail blockade set up more than two weeks earlier by the Tyendinaga Mohawk near Belleville, Ont.

That cleared the way for train service to resume in the area, but as the first train moved along the tracks around 7 p.m. ET, protesters tossed a tire onto the tracks and set it on fire.

While the main protest camp outside Belleville has been dismantled, a few Mohawk demonstrators remained on the south side of the CN Rail tracks and said they are determined to stay as long as the RCMP continued to patrol Wet'suwet'en territory.

OPP officers were also still on site, saying they're there to make sure the court order to keep the tracks clear is obeyed.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, issued a statement after the Tyendinaga arrests, saying that the police action "shows once again that we will never achieve reconciliation through force."

'Aiming for a peaceful resolution'

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said it's up to police services with local jurisdiction to handle the protests.

"It's important that both a strategy of negotiation and discussion continue. And at the same time, we have called upon those who are causing those blockades and disruption of rail service to take down those barricades to allow services to resume," he said Tuesday afternoon.

"And where the law is not being followed, then the police of jurisdiction will deal with it."

Earlier this month, RCMP in B.C. enforced a court injunction against those preventing contractors from accessing the construction area for the Coastal GasLink project, which would carry natural gas from near Dawson Creek to a coastal LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat.

Twenty First Nation band councils along the route have approved the project. But the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say that no pipelines can be built through their traditional territory without their consent. 

Anti-pipeline demonstrators march to block a container truck entrance in Vancouver on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Friday, the RCMP in British Columbia moved its officers out of an outpost on Wet'suwet'en territory to a nearby detachment in the town of Houston.

A spokesperson for the force said they continue to have discussions with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Tuesday that the B.C. RCMP and the hereditary chiefs spoke Monday and they'd have more to say later.

"We're all aiming for a peaceful resolution," he said following a cabinet meeting. "We're working minute by minute on this."

With files from CBC Hamilton, CBC Montreal, CBC British Columbia and The Canadian Press

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