A protester stands between Mohawk Warrior Society flags at a rail blockade on the tenth day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. The protest is in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Federal, B.C. ministers seek meeting with Wet’suwet’en in hope of blockade solution

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route

An upcoming meeting in British Columbia is emerging as the focal point for hopes of a speedy and peaceful end to the blockades that have disrupted rail and road traffic across large swaths of the country for more than a week.

The meeting, which would involve the federal and B.C. ministers responsible for Indigenous relations sitting down with First Nations opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, has yet to be scheduled.

That has raised questions about how long Ottawa, in particular, is willing to wait as pressure mounts on the federal Liberal government to end the protests due to the economic damage they are causing. The pipeline has support from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s elected band council but is opposed by the nation’s hereditary chiefs, who claim authority on traditional territory off the First Nation’s formal reserve.

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, reiterated her desire to meet with those opposed to the $6.6-billion natural-gas pipeline as she sat down Monday with B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser.

“We have reached out through a joint letter to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs about meeting with us at the earliest opportunity and are hopeful we can all work together to establish a process for ongoing and constructive dialogue and action to address the issues at hand,” the ministers said in a joint statement late Monday.

“Our primary focus is everyone’s safety and ultimately, a peaceful resolution to the situation.”

The two were invited last week to meet by Gitxsan chief Norm Stephens after members of the First Nation erected a blockade near New Hazelton in support of neighbouring Wet’suwet’en chiefs.

Bennett’s sitdown with Fraser in Victoria came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held an emergency, closed-door meeting with cabinet ministers in Ottawa to discuss the blockades.

Trudeau emerged from the meeting emphasizing his desire to find an end to the crisis, adding he had reached out to a number of premiers and Indigenous leaders to discuss the standoff. But the prime minister was tightlipped about his plan to reach that conclusion.

“I understand how worrisome this is for so many Canadians and difficult for many people and families across the country,” Trudeau said. “We’re going to continue to focus on resolving the situation quickly and peacefully, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The prime minister, who cancelled a two-day trip to Barbados this week to deal with the crisis at home, did not take any questions before being driven away by his RCMP security detail.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Justice Minister David Lametti and others who attended the meeting with Trudeau were similarly mum on how they planned to address the crisis.

The ministerial meetings in Ottawa and Victoria came as protesters continued to block rail lines as well as highways and bridges in different parts of the country. Those included shutting down for the first time the Thousand Islands Bridge border crossing near Kingston, Ont.

The Ontario Provincial Police indicated they didn’t plan on breaking up that protest, saying “the OPP has no role to play in the underlying issues of the event and is not in a position to resolve them.” Protesters lifted their blockade of the bridge in the afternoon.

Mounties in Manitoba also reported about eight to ten demonstrators at a CN Rail crossing on Highway 75 in southern Manitoba. The highway and rail line both run south to the U.S. border crossing at Emerson, Man.

RCMP spokesman Robert Cyrenne said police were stopping traffic for safety, but that vehicles were still able to pass in both directions. CN said train movement in the area had been stopped and that the company was “evaluating our legal options very closely.”

The RCMP said it had deployed a liaison team to the site to “establish a dialogue and maintain open and ongoing communication.”

Police have largely refrained from direct action against the blockades since the RCMP enforced an injunction outside Houston, B.C. earlier this month, where opponents of the Coastal GasLink project were preventing access to a work site for the pipeline.

While more than 20 people were arrested and the company is preparing to resume work, the RCMP raid sparked more protests and blockades across the country.

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s council. But Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs are opposed to the project and say the council does not have authority over the relevant land.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who met Saturday with representatives of the Mohawk First Nation near Belleville, Ont., where a rail blockade has shut down train service across much of Eastern Canada, has invoked the Oka and Ipperwash crises in pressing for a peaceful solution.

A Quebec police officer died during a raid in 1990 after Mohawks south of Montreal blocked the Mercier Bridge, which became the Oka crisis.

Five years later, an Ontario Provincial Police officer shot and killed protester Dudley George during a standoff over a land claim by Chippewa protesters outside a Ipperwash Provincial Park.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en and B.C. government have been talking Aboriginal title for a year

— with reporting by Nicole Thompson in Toronto, Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton and Amy Smart in Vancouver.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLink

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bus rider who travelled to Golden tests positive for COVID-19

The passenger travelled from Calgary to Golden on March 15

Easter bunny to send ambassador to Golden for weekend drive-by

The Easter bunny will be sending his emissary, Egglebert Bunny, to celebrate Easter with Golden

Frustrated MLA begs out of province visitors to stay home

Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok doesn’t understand why people aren’t listening to good advice

Golden Facebook group attracts 400 volunteers looking to help during COVID-19

The group, which was created on March 15, has already amassed over 400 volunteers

Golden Rockets’ Turner commits to University of Victoria

The 20 year old had 16 goals in 31 regular season games this season

COVID-19: 4 new deaths, 25 new cases but only in Vancouver Coastal, Fraser Health

A total of 1,291 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Blasting through the West Kootenay

80 years ago; ‘Pretty near all the people from Fruitvale were working on it’

COVID-19: Don’t get away for Easter weekend, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

John Horgan, Adrian Dix call 130 faith leaders as holidays approach

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

RCMP call on kids to name latest foal recruits

The baby horses names are to start with the letter ‘S’

As Canadians return home amid pandemic, border crossings dip to just 5% of usual traffic

Non-commercial land crossing dipped by 95%, air travel dropped by 96 per cent, according to the CBSA

Logan Boulet Effect: Green Shirt Day calls on Canadians to become organ donors

While social distancing, the day also honours the 16 lives lost in the 2018 Humboldt Broncos Crash

COMMENTARY: Knowing where COVID-19 cases are does not protect you

Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why B.C. withholds community names

Most Read