A protester stands beside smoke at the closed train tracks in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., on Thursday Feb. 20, 2020, as they protest in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Trudeau: Time for blockades to end and Indigenous leaders to work with government

Prime minister says situation in Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute is ‘unacceptable and untenable’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says after two weeks, barricades on rail lines and other major transportation routes have to come down.

He said injunctions to clear tracks must be obeyed and the law must be upheld, and there’s no point making the same overtures to Indigenous leaders if they aren’t accepted.

“We are waiting for Indigenous leadership to show that it understands,” he said in an Ottawa news conference. “The onus is on them.”

The blockades, particularly one on a critical east-west rail line in Ontario, are responses by Indigenous people and supporters to a move by the RCMP to clear protesters who had been blocking access to a worksite for a major natural gas pipeline in B.C. Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation oppose the work on their traditional territory, despite support from elected band councils along the pipeline route.

“Let us be clear: all Canadians are paying the price. Some people can’t get to work, others have lost their jobs,” Trudeau said. ”Essential goods … cannot get where they need to go.”

The situation “is unacceptable and untenable,” he said.

Trudeau distinguished between protests over deep, long-standing, historic injustices and opposition to current policy decisions. One deserves more deference and patience than the other, he said.

He is contending with pressure from several premiers after they had a collective telephone call with him Thursday evening.

Alberta’s Jason Kenney, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister said he made it clear on the conference call that the blockades are having devastating impacts and giving the impression that Canada can’t operate as a modern democratic country.

He said the prime minister told the premiers that the government’s “patience is wearing thin” and that he believes that action is required “within hours and not days.”

Meanwhile, a group of hereditary leaders from the Wet’suwet’en Nation in B.C. is spending the day with Mohawk supporters in Ontario.

The hereditary chiefs are thanking the Mohawks for supporting them by blocking that rail line between Toronto and Montreal.

They have scheduled their own news conference at the blockade near Belleville, Ont., this afternoon.

The hereditary Wet’suwet’en leaders say they’re willing to talk with representatives of the Crown, but only after the RCMP and Coastal GasLink workers have left their traditional lands.

On Thursday, the RCMP in B.C. sent a letter to the traditional leaders, telling them the force intends to move its officers out of the territory, as long as the chiefs commit to allowing pipeline workers access to the work site.

Trudeau has been under increasing pressure to end the blockades, with Conservatives calling for the government to use force, while the Liberal government insists peaceful negotiations are the only way to a lasting solution.

B.C. Premier John Horgan acknowledged Friday that it’s a “challenge” to have a dialogue with chiefs who have refused to meet with government ministers unless the RCMP and Coastal GasLink withdraw entirely.

But he said others from the community have begun to speak out, including the matriarchs who have historically been the keepers of the traditional practices of the Wet’suwet’en people.

Horgan said he expects Na’moks, a hereditary chief who also goes by John Ridsdale, will be hearing from others about his refusal to meet with the province, because that’s “not how you have respectful dialogue with your neighbours.”

He said he believes the vast majority of northern B.C. residents and Wet’suwet’en people want to find a way forward and his government remains “at the ready” to help reach that outcome.

The Canadian Press

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