Politics

Ottawa 'clearly' sees a path forward to defuse rail blockades: Miller

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says there is a clear “path forward" to defuse the ongoing tensions caused by protests that have hamstrung the country's transportation network, despite some Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs refusing to meet until the RCMP leave their territory.

Emergency debate held in the House of Commons Tuesday night as rail traffic disruptions continue

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller arrives at a meeting with representatives of the Mohawk Nation at the site of a rail stoppage on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, part of a series of solidarity protests against British Columbia's Coastal GasLink pipeline. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says there is a clear "path forward" to defuse the ongoing tensions caused by protests that have hamstrung the country's transportation network, despite some Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs refusing to meet until the RCMP leave their territory.

"I know that the recent events in B.C. and in various places across the country are deeply concerning to all Canadians. It is a very difficult situation for everyone — for those people who are non-Indigenous but especially if they are Indigenous," said Miller during an emergency debate in the House of Commons Tuesday night. 

"All of Canada is hurting, and we are all hoping and working for a peaceful resolution."

Watch: Miller shares personal story during emergency debate

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller shared a personal story of joining the Canadian Armed Forces as a teenager, just as the Oka crisis began to bubble up. 3:29

When questioned by members of the opposition on the negotiations, Miller said he wouldn't go into details about the steps the government is taking.

"But clearly, we see there is a path forward," he said. "Canadians should know that we are seizing the situation at the very highest level of government to work toward a peaceful resolution."

By blocking a key corridor in southern Ontario, protesters have successfully shut down CN Rail in Eastern Canada and much of Via Rail's services nationwide. Partial passenger traffic is set to resume on Thursday. Meanwhile, CN has announced it is "temporarily" laying off about 450 workers at its Eastern Canadian operations

Protesters from and supporting the Tyendinaga Mohawks say they are acting in solidarity with some Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline project running through their traditional territory.

Tuesday's emergency debate came just a few hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Canadians to be patient with his government as it seeks a negotiated end to the blockades.

Miller's cabinet colleague Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and her B.C. counterpart have proposed a meeting with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to defuse the situation. But so far, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have refused to meet until the RCMP leave the area.

Watch: Miller calls on Scheer to visit protest site

In a testy moment during an emergency debate, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller challenged Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to visit protest sites with him. 1:09

The proposed $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline between Dawson Creek and Kitimat, B.C., has received approval from the province, and 20 First Nations band councils have signed agreements in support of the project, including five of the six band councils in the Wet'suwet'en nation.  

However, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say those band councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves because their authority derives from the Indian Act. 

Miller challenges Scheer to visit protest site

The RCMP said in a statement the force is aware of the request and discussions are underway.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called for more police intervention to end the blockades, while blasting Trudeau's call for more talks with the protesters as emboldening "radical activists" who want to hold the Canadian economy hostage.

During a particularly testy moment during the emergency debate, Miller challenged Scheer to visit the protest sites with him.

"It is loath for me to understand the perspective of the leader of the Opposition from the comfort of his residence in Stornoway when there are people on the line whose lives are at risk, and he should appreciate that," Miller, a lawyer by trade, said on Tuesday night.

"I ask everyone in this House, as we contemplate the next few days, to look at their children or those that are young they are dear to and ask ourselves what we will tell them when this conflict resolves. We cannot repeat the errors of the past, and there are many to base ourselves on."

Miller, who was appointed to cabinet in November, began his nearly 20-minute address in the House with a story of joining the Canadian Armed Forces as a teenager, just as the Oka crisis began to bubble. 

"That summer was a difficult summer for Canada. There were in my platoon four Mohawk brothers in arms," said Miller.

Watch: Miller on talking to children during emergency debate

"We cannot repeat the errors of the past," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller during an emergency debate on the rail blockades in the Commons Tuesday. 0:41

One night word came in that their regiment would deploy to the community. 

"The next morning, they were no longer there," said an emotional Miller.

"They were asked to make a difficult choice, choosing between the country that they would lay down their life for and their families. For them, the choice was clear.

"We should know that no individuals should have to choose between their families, their nation and the country that they would readily lay their lives down for. We vowed that this would never happen again, and it should not happen again." 

Watch: No talks with the federal government until the RCMP leave Wet'suwet'en territory

Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Woos tells Power & Politics that there will be no talks with the federal government until the RCMP leave Wet'suwet'en territory. 7:58

With files from J.P. Tasker, Chantelle Bellrichard and Jorge Barrera and the Canadian Press

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