Trudeau says rail barricades 'need to come down now,' rules out sending in soldiers to restore rail service

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that while Canadians have been patient with protests that have blocked rail traffic in parts of the country, the situation is "unacceptable and untenable" and the barricades must come down but the army would not be used to make that happen.

Federal government's focus will remain on finding 'peaceful and lasting resolution' to rail blockades, says PM

'Canadians have been patient, our government has been patient, but it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now,' Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Friday as he addressed the issue of protests that have shut down rail traffic across Canada. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

While ruling out deploying the army to lift Indigenous blockades restricting freight transport, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today called the blockades "unacceptable and untenable" and said they must come down.

"Everyone involved is worried," Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. "Canadians have been patient, our government has been patient. But it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now."

Trudeau said that his government has engaged directly with Indigenous leaders and premiers with the aim of finding a "peaceful and lasting resolution" to the crisis.

"That focus does not change," Trudeau said. "This is a complex issue and the situation we now find ourselves in is a delicate one. History has taught us how governments can make matters worse if they fail to exhaust all other possible avenues.

"When some urged us to use force immediately, we chose dialogue and mutual respect. When others urged us to give up, we extended a hand in good faith."

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, opposed to a natural gas pipeline being constructed through their territory, have prevented workers from Coastal GasLink from entering their territory in northern B.C. That defiance has inspired other activists and indigenous groups to launch railway and port blockades that have restricted the transport of goods across the country for the past two weeks. 

Even if the barricades do come down, the construction of the pipeline faces other obstacles. B.C.s' Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) has instructed Coastal GasLink to undergo further consultation with Indigenous communities along a stretch of its pipeline route.

The firm now has 30 days to begin talks, and during that time no construction can happen along the 18-kilometre portion of the pipeline in the Morice River area, which is within Dark House territory.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says rail blockades are "unacceptable and untenable":

Trudeau calls blockades 'unacceptable and untenable'

4 years ago
Duration 0:55
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Friday press conference the rail blockades must come down.

Despite efforts to reach out to leaders of the protest, Trudeau said, all attempts at dialogue with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs behind the initial protest have failed to deliver a resolution.

"We cannot have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table. For this reason, we have no choice but to stop making the same overtures," Trudeau said. "Of course, we will never close the door on dialogue and our hand remains extended should someone want to reach for it."

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CBC News Network's Power & Politics earlier today that some Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who disagree with the chiefs behind the protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline project have reached out to the federal government to talk. 

"There have been discussions with hereditary chiefs who have been willing to speak to us, and actually that has been very productive," Blair told host Vassy Kapelos.

"But unfortunately, those who have been most vocal, and have now [a] growing list of demands, have declined to engage with any meaningful dialogue with us."

Looking for a peaceful solution

Asked if he would send in the RCMP to end the blockades, Trudeau said that since the railway blockade in Ontario falls under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Provincial Police, the Mounties would not be involved. He also ruled out deploying the army.

"There is no question of using the army. You don't use the army against Canadian civilians," he said. 

The prime minister said he's confident that Canada's law enforcement agencies will work with Indigenous leaders to avoid any violent outcome.

"I think that we have demonstrated that we believe in a peaceful solution to this," Trudeau said. "But we cannot continue to watch Canadians suffer with shortages and layoffs."

Two kinds of protests

Trudeau said there are two kinds of protests in play right now: those being staged by activists focused on historical wrongs done to Canada's Indigenous peoples, and those aimed at "particular project with which they disagree to advance a particular point of view."

"Let me be clear, our resolve to pursue the reconciliation agenda with Indigenous peoples is as strong as ever. There are historic wrongs to right, there are gaps to be closed, there is a relationship to be renewed and new relationships to be built," Trudeau said.

"Canada is ready for this, Canadians want this but hurting Canadian families from coast to coast to coast does nothing to advance the cause of reconciliation."

Speaking from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ont., Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Woos, who also goes by the name of Frank Alec, gave Trudeau credit for acknowledging the wrongs of the past but gave little indication he agrees with the government's concerns.

'Illegal occupation in Wet'suwet'en territory': Chief Woos

"We heard Prime Minister Trudeau just a little while ago talking about the inconvenience that Canada has suffered. However, there is a difference between inconvenience and injustice. Total difference. Don't confuse one with the other," He said. 

Woos said that the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have confirmed that, far from leaving Wet'suwet'en land, the RCMP has "increased harassment, made illegal arrests increased surveillance of Wet'suwet'en people and their invited guests."

Watch: Chief Woos says no blockade talks until RCMP leave Wet'suwet'en territory

Wet'suwet'en chief says no blockade talks until demands met

4 years ago
Duration 1:35
Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Woos says there will be no talks on ending rail blockades until the RCMP leaves their territory and all work on a natural gas pipeline ceases.

The chief said the RCMP actions amounted to an "illegal occupation in Wet'suwet'en territory," and that the protests would continue until the RCMP clears off their land and all work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline stops.

"We demand the remote detachment, community industry service office, established by the RCMP on Wet'suwet'en territory without our consent, be immediately removed," he said.

"We demand that all [Coastal GasLink] activities cease within Wet'suwet'en territory while nation to nation talks are ongoing."

Send in the Mounties: Scheer

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau today of showing "phony resolve" in demanding the barricades come down. He also criticized the prime minister for ruling out the use of police to end the protests.

"Justin Trudeau has caused this problem. He elevated these protests to the same level as efforts for reconciliation as recently as this Tuesday, and now he's finally realized that there are two different things at play here," he said.

Scheer claimed radical environmental activists have hijacked the Indigenous protests in an effort to shut down Canada's energy sector. He also dismissed the argument that the RCMP doesn't have the jurisdiction to end at least some of the protests.

Watch: Conservative leader Andrew Scheer says Trudeau is showing 'phony resolve' on blockade crisis:

Scheer: PM showing 'phoney resolve'

4 years ago
Duration 1:18
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accuses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of displaying a "phoney resolve" to end the blockade crisis.

"There are many areas where there are protests that are under the jurisdiction of the RCMP and I believe having that leadership shown at the federal level would certainly send a signal that the prime minister is serious about what he's saying," Scheer said.

Rule of law

It remains unclear exactly what the federal government means to do to remove the barricades that are strangling rail traffic.

Asked Friday morning if the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs had responded to an offer from the B.C. RCMP to pull back officers from a part of their traditional territory, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he couldn't comment.

"We know that we still have a great deal of work to do. We're doing that work and we very much recognize the importance and the urgency of resolving this as quickly as possible," Blair said hours before the prime minister addressed reporters.

Watch: The NDP's Rachel Blaney respond's to Trudeau's press conference:

'Outrageous': NDP says Trudeau has not acted to de-escalate crisis

4 years ago
Duration 2:08
BC NDP MP Rachel Blaney spoke to reporters after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the barricades to come down.

The Mohawk protesters in Tyendinaga had said they would continue their blockade of the CN Rail line near Belleville, Ont., until the RCMP abandons its temporary detachment on Wet'suwet'en land. The B.C. RCMP has said it will move its operations to nearby Houston, B.C., as long as the hereditary chiefs guarantee free access to Morice West Forest Service Road, a public road used by construction crews building the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

"We are waiting for a commitment before we finalize that transition of our operations to Houston. However we are doing all the planning now and getting things ready so it can be happen as soon as we get that commitment," a spokesperson for the B.C. RCMP said.

"The RCMP recognizes the importance for this crisis to be de-escalated, both across the country and in the Wet'suwet'en traditional territory ... Ultimately, we remain open to any service delivery scenario that keeps people safe and secure."

On a call with premiers late Thursday, Trudeau was told Ottawa needs to resolve this crisis quickly or risk a backlash from counter-protesters and vigilantes determined to put an end to Indigenous demonstrations that have snarled the flow of goods and people.

The protests prompted CN and Via Rail to temporarily lay off 1,500 railway workers and disrupted the transport of food, farm products, consumer goods and essential items like chlorine for water and propane for home heating.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's full press conference in the player below: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's complete press conference on rail blockades

4 years ago
Duration 33:07
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government's focus will remain on finding a 'peaceful and lasting resolution' to rail disruptions.


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.