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NY Times, Feb. 11, 2020
Canadian Police Move Against Pipeline Blockades, Arresting Dozens
By Ian Austen
OTTAWA — The Canadian police on Monday began moving against protesters
who had set up transportation blockades around the country in sympathy
with an Indigenous group’s campaign to halt construction of a natural
gas pipeline to Canada’s West Coast.
The blockades affected at least 19,500 rail passengers, according to Via
Rail Canada, and 200 freight trains were unable to travel.
By late Monday, more than 47 protesters had been arrested. The
nationwide demonstrations had been set off by the recent arrests of 21
protesters at the pipeline construction site itself.
The first blockade appeared on Thursday night and led to the shutdown of
all rail passenger trains between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, as well
as some freight trains. Another group was blocking freight and passenger
rail traffic near Smithers, British Columbia.
Protesters also effectively ended operations at major ports in Vancouver
and nearby Delta, British Columbia; shut down a commuter railway line in
Montreal; and blocked traffic in Regina, Saskatchewan. A small group
also occupied an area outside the Ottawa office of Canada’s justice
The protests were in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, some of
whose members are opposed to the construction of a 416-mile, 6.2 billion
Canadian dollar project to link gas wells in the interior of British
Columbia to a new liquefied natural gas terminal on the coast for export
sales to Asia. For more than a year, members of the Wet’suwet’en have
been blocking roads in Houston, British Columbia, where the pipeline is
The gas line is strongly supported by the government of British
Columbia. And Coastal GasLink, the company behind the project, has
signed construction agreements with the 20 elected Indigenous councils
along the route and has promised to award 620 million Canadian dollars’
worth of contracts to Indigenous businesses.
But a number of chiefs who hold Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership fear
the project will irrevocably alter their land. They oppose reaching any
sort of agreement with the company or accepting any economic benefits.
The protests began after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved last
week to enforce an injunction granted on Dec. 31 against the
Wet’suwet’en who have been blocking the roads at the construction site.
Chief Smogelgem of the Wet’suwet’en said he and other hereditary chiefs
had been in talks with the province about the pipeline shortly before
the police moved in last week. He said the arrests will only inflame the
situation and prompt further protests elsewhere in the country.
“It’s guaranteed,” he said. “This is an uprising that’s happening all
across the country.”
The police are now stopping most people, including members of the
Wet’suwet’en, from entering a wide area around the protesters’
encampment. Access to the area by journalists has been limited to a few
escorted visits; the national police force said in a statement that 21
people had been arrested there since Thursday, though eight have since
been released without being charged.
On Monday before dawn in Vancouver, the police made 33 arrests at the
entrance to the port. Video from the scene suggests that the arrests
took place peacefully and that the police allowed other demonstrators to
remain near the scene if they did not try to block the port. In nearby
Delta on Monday, 14 protesters were arrested.
The Canadian National Railway company, which owns the tracks in British
Columbia, as well as those in Ontario used by the Via Rail Canada
passenger service, has obtained injunctions against the protesters in a
bid to reopen its lines. There was no indication on Monday of how and
when they may be enforced.
Chief R. Donald Maracle of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte said the
blockade on its territory east of Toronto, which has at times involved a
snow plow and a sofa, was not authorized by the band council. He said he
had first learned about it from the railway.
The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty and in 1997 Supreme Court of
Canada ruled that they hold “Aboriginal title” to the territory now
involved in the dispute.
Chief Smogelgem said he and the other leaders will not end efforts to
block the pipeline “until the R.C.M.P. get off our land and the Coastal
GasLink company stops the pipeline.”
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