‘Modest progress’ made in daylong talks over Ontario rail blockade, says Indigenous Services minister

Marc Miller says he will speak with the prime minister tonight, discuss next steps with cabinet

Marc Miller meets with Mohawk leaders to discuss Ontario rail blockade. 1:04

The federal Indigenous Services Minister wrapped up daylong meetings with members of the Mohawk First Nation Saturday evening saying “modest progress” had been made in talks to end a blockade that has brought rail service throughout much of Eastern Canada to a virtual standstill.

Marc Miller said he plans to take what he learned after the meeting on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory back to Ottawa to share with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet.

He said the talks were productive, but there was no news on whether the protest was going to end.

Marc Miller and members of the Mohawk First Nation began discussions Saturday morning at the site where a handful of protestors were camped out for the 10th straight day in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia, who oppose the development of a liquefied natural gas pipeline crossing their traditional territory.

Representatives from 20 First Nations along the pipeline route —  including the elected chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en —  signed agreements with Coastal GasLink consenting to the project. However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those councils were established by the Indian Act and only have authority over reserve lands.

After meeting with the group for about an hour at the Wyman Rd. CN Rail crossing, about 200 kilometres east of Toronto, the discussion moved to the Mohawk Community Centre on Mohawk Tyendinaga Territory.

The meeting was described as “emotional” at times, according to people inside the room who spoke to CBC News.

Miller said upon arriving that he didn’t know whether he could convince the Mohawk to end the blockade and allow the resumption of rail services, but said he was there to start a dialogue.

“This is a situation that is very tense, very volatile, there are some people that have been standing out there for days, so today is a chance to talk and have a real discussion,” said Miller before the meeting.

“We’re a nation of people that have stopped talking to each other. We tweet. We make statements on Facebook. We go around asking, condemning, but we’re not talking.”

Train services suspended across Eastern Canada

The Ontario blockade, combined with similar efforts in B.C. and Quebec, resulted in Via Rail suspending passenger train service nationwide and Canadian National Railway Co. shutting down freight operations for Eastern Canada on Friday.

The Mohawk agreed to meet with Miller after he sent an invitation to some Mohawk leaders on Wednesday. Miller requested the meeting, he said, to “polish the silver covenant chain,” which the Mohawks say refers to one of the original agreements between the First Nation and the Crown.

Miller acknowledged the difficulties that the blockades have caused for travellers and businesses, but stressed that the government’s approach was to negotiate, rather than have police dismantle them.

Protesters stand on the closed train tracks on the ninth day of the blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont. on Friday. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

 

“All of Canada is hurting, the economy is slowing down,” said Miller. “Everyone knows the reports about supply shortages, but we can’t move forward without dialogue and that’s we’re going to do today.”

The approach worked in B.C., where protestors blocking CN train tracks near New Hazelton in northern B.C., agreed to end their protest after both the provincial and federal governments agreed to sit down with Gitxsan hereditary chiefs.

Still, with new blockades and protests popping up in different places almost daily, the Liberal government risks losing control of the situation.

A growing number of business leaders and industry groups called for government or police intervention in the shutdowns, and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took up the cry on Friday.

“Law enforcement should enforce the law,” he said. “We have court orders, we have court injunctions. They need to be respected.”

Canadian National Railway obtained a court injunction to end the demonstration on Feb. 7, but the Ontario Provincial Police have not enforced it.

WATCH | Coastal GasLink: Exploring Indigenous support and opposition

The $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline has received approval from the province, and 20 First Nations band councils, but the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those band councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves. 11:52

Ontario Provincial Police defended their handling of the situation, saying officers have been in talks with the protesters throughout the week — a move that’s in line with the force’s framework on resolving conflicts with Indigenous communities.

“The proper use of police discretion is a valid, appropriate approach to de-escalating situations such as this,” spokesperson Bill Dickson said in a statement. “The proper exercise of police discretion should not be confused with a lack of enforcement.”

Liberal government taking careful approach

But Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the situation is more nuanced, acknowledging the fraught history between Ontario Provincial Police and Indigenous communities may call for a more delicate approach.

“Also remember that they have to take into account some history here when we’re talking about what happened at Ipperwash,” he said, referring to a violent 1995 standoff that resulted in the death of Indigenous activist Dudley George. “It is their decision about how to approach that.”

Trudeau agreed, noting that police forces have the right to use their discretion when addressing such situations.

“We are not the kind of country where politicians tell police what to do in operational matters,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Germany.  SOURCE

Mohawk lawyer says blockade not breaching court injunction

Seventy-nine-year-old elder, identified only as George, sits by the fire at a demonstration by Mohawk members in Tyendinaga. George has been at the blockade near CN Railway tracks since it began February 6. ALEX FILIPE JPG, BI

Tyendinaga Mohawks said in social media interviews posted on YouTube they don’t believe they are breaching a court injunction served Tuesday by a sheriff that asks the demonstrators to cease and desist to allow the CN railway to open once again.

The demonstration east of Shannonville continued into its eighth day in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations efforts to stop a $6.6 billion Coastal Gaslink pipeline on their lands in northern British Columbia.

In the video, the local Mohawk’s contingent staging a demonstration along the CN Railway tracks at Wyman Road level crossing, said the injunction states there should be no “damage to the tracks or the mechanisms.”

Nothing is damaged, nothing is blocked,” said the demonstrators who have declined to speak to mainstream media at the site since the political action started Feb. 6, including The Intelligencer.

The demonstration has forced Canadian National Rail and Via Rail to cancel hundreds of trains from travelling along the busiest railway corridor in the country.

In a statement Thursday, Via Rail said it is “cancelling all departures until Friday February 14 end of day on the Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes in both directions.”

As of 1:30 p.m. on February 12, 256 trains have been cancelled and at least 42,100 passengers have been affected. On the Prince Rupert-Prince Georges route, 30 passengers have been impacted,” Via commented in a statement e-mailed to The Intelligencer.

At the railway crossing in question east of Shannonville, Stephen John Ford, a lawyer and member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, said in a Youtube video he reviewed the court injunction filed by CN and said “from what I can tell here, there is nothing that seems on its face to violate the injunction.”

What they’re [CN] saying is that there can be no obstruction of the tracks or any damage to any of their equipment including the tracks, switches or signals or of that nature,” Ford said.

Other than the fact that there may be some people standing and being within the boundaries of the right-of-way claimed by CN, there is nothing that would violate in my view the injunction,” he said.

This may well indeed be the galvanizing issue that brings First Nations people together in a common cause against the colonization that they suffered under for the last 152 years in this country,” he said.

Support is always warranted, however, there are laws in this country. We don’t want to see people jailed,” Ford said. “And I think the Wet’suewt’en lead is the one to follow, peacefully. Peaceful resistance is the way to go. That’s what I see here.”

In a separate video, a local Mohawk resident noted the First Nations never ceded the land to Canadian National Railway and suggested the railway firm should be paying some kind of toll to Tyendinaga Mohawks for its use.

Thursday marked one week since Mohawk demonstrators occupied space beside a CN railway in Tyendinaga. As some members sat around a fire, others brought fresh firewood to keep them warm as Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather warning for Southern Ontario.

Wind chills near -31 were expected to begin overnight and continue on into Friday.

“We are looking at some very cold conditions throughout today and especially tonight and early Friday morning,” explained meteorologist Gerald Cheng from Environment Canada. “We are talking about windchill values reaching -31 overnight. And as people wake up early tomorrow morning, that is the kind of same windchill we are looking at.”

“When we are talking about windchill values of -21 and even lower, there is a risk to exposed skin possibly freezing in 10 to 30 minutes,” explained Cheng. “So in these conditions, we certainly advise people to dress warmly. Cover your fingers, hands, feet and even face so that your skin is not exposed for an extended period of time.”

“Certainly there is a high risk of frostbite and hypothermia as well if you’re outside for long periods of time without adequate clothing,” said Cheng. SOURCE

Protesters continue to block railway traffic near Belleville, Ont.

protests

Protesters from Tyendinaga Mohawk Nation block rail tracks near Belleville, Ont., Sunday. Feb. 9, 2020. (CTV News Toronto/Tom Harris)

BELLEVILLE, ONT. — Protesters halted train travel along two of VIA Rail’s busiest Ontario routes Sunday as they continued to demonstrate against a natural gas pipeline project in British Columbia.

VIA Rail says 18 of its trains were cancelled Sunday, affecting service between Toronto and Montreal, as well as Toronto and Ottawa in both directions.

Canadian National Railway traffic was also blocked along the corridor east of Toronto.

The blockade took over the tracks Thursday night in solidarity with demonstrators in northwest B.C. where Indigenous people and supporters are protesting the construction of a pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory.

VIA_Rail

FEBRUARY 9: Due to the protesters currently blocking tracks near Belleville, Ontario, train service between Montreal and Toronto and between Ottawa and Toronto is affected in both directions. See http://www.viarail.ca  for a list of cancellations.

VIA Rail Canada

Organize your train trip in Canada and reserve your tickets.

viarail.ca

RCMP officers there have been arresting people for breaching a court injunction related to opposition to the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline.
CN says it has been granted an injunction order to remove protesters from the site near Belleville, Ont.

protest

Ontario provincial police say they’re continuing to monitor the demonstration.

On Saturday, more protesters in Toronto disrupted Canadian Pacific Railway traffic downtown and momentarily blocked GO Transit trains on the Barrie line. SOURCE

RELATED:

Tyendinaga protesters remain near tracks
Via Rail service shut down by Tyendinaga Mohawks protest