After more than two full weeks of rail blockades, with protests happening across multiple parts of the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has definitively said “the barricades need to come down now.”
"Everyone involved is worried," Trudeau said in a press conference on Friday. "Canadians have been patient, our government has been patient, but it has been two weeks and the barricades need to come down now."
“We are waiting for Indigenous leadership to show that it understands.”
Ontario Provincial Police have since charged 10 protesters, putting an end to a rail blockade set up by the Tyendinaga Mohawk near Belleville, Ont.
The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation oppose a $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline that would cut through their territory in British Columbia.
On Thursday, RCMP in the province formally stated their intention to move officers out of the area and station them instead in the nearby town of Houston.
Trudeau has come under increasing amounts of pressure to address the protests and its resulting impact on Canadians. About 1,500 railway workers have been temporarily out of jobs, and the protests have impacted both the transport of goods and passenger rail travel in Canada.
"Let us be clear, all Canadians are paying the price,” Trudeau said. “Some people can't get to work, others have lost their jobs."
The prime minister said his government has met with Indigenous leaders and premiers in various provinces, with the hopes of finding a “peaceful” resolution to the situation.
“This is a complex issue and the situation we now find ourselves in is a delicate one,” Trudeau said. “History has taught us how governments can make matters worse if they fail to exhaust all other possible avenues.”
The prime minister, calling the situation “unacceptable and untenable,” added that injunctions to clear rail lines need to be adhered to.
“The injunctions must be obeyed, and the law must be upheld,"he said. "Canadians who are feeling the very real impact of these blockades are running out of patience."
What have the reactions to the blockades been?
Directly following Trudeau’s comments last week, Mohawk and Wet’suwet’en chiefs spoke to the media, reiterating that their demands are to speak with ministers in the federal government to remove the RCMP and stop work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline entirely. Otherwise the blockades will continue.
Here’s what the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are asking for in order to have discussions with the federal government. pic.twitter.com/IGL1bylI6Z— Catherine Cullen (@cath_cullen) February 21, 2020
Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been strongly against the Liberal government’s actions to try to find a resolution to the “illegal” blockades.
“He’s basically been giving them a signal that they can act with impunity,” Scheer said on Friday, adding that Trudeau has “emboldened” the protesters, while the Conservative take has been that the Wet’suwet’en people support this project.
The Wet'suwet'en people have been divided in its support for the pipeline. Members of the Nation spoke at a pro-pipeline event earlier this week, highlighting that the pipeline would bring jobs and economic opportunities to the communities.
“These protesters, these activists have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege,” Scheer said last week. “They need to check their privilege and let people whose jobs depend on the railway system — small businesses, farmers — do their jobs.”
B.C. premier John Horgan said Thursday that stalling or cancelling the Coastal GasLink pipeline is “not an option.”
"If there was a prospect of a positive outcome, of course," he said. "But the notion that it would just somehow be, 'You have to come and talk to me' without any understanding of what the [end goal] of that discussion would be, I'm not prepared to do that."
Please see below my statement on the illegal blockades. pic.twitter.com/QtR0LpaqYF— Doug Ford (@fordnation) February 21, 2020
In a public statement, Ontario premier Doug Ford said Trudeau needs to “step up and take responsibility” to put an end to the blockades and this “national emergency.”
At the same time, several Canadians have spoken out in support of the protests as a means for justice for the Wet’suwet’en people.
"[Scheer’s] words are an embarrassment, shameful and hateful and thankfully don't represent those of most Canadians,” Indigenous rights activist and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University Pam Palmater told CTV News. “Canadians continue to be our strongest allies in seeking justice for our peoples - that's what the treaty relationship is all about.”
“For reconciliation to be anything more than an empty signifier, Canada and all provincial governments would have to cease justifying land appropriation when consent has been denied by those with that authority in particular nations,” political science professors Gina Starblanket and Joyce Green wrote in an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail.
Canadians have also taken to social media to express their opinions on Trudeau’s latest response to the blockades.
He is out of patience? These blockades have been up for a few weeks and yet Sunday marks the 13th anniversary of the Caring Society and AFN filing the human rights case regarding Canada’s discrimination toward First Nations kids and it is still going on. https://t.co/Ayyer8MAeV— Cindy Blackstock (@cblackst) February 21, 2020
I am not a fan of our current PM. That being said. It was a good update.(about 10 days late). It sounds like our gov. is trying to engage in dialogue with an unwilling partner. Time for blockades to be removed and people to be arrested.— SG RiverDan (@SGRiverDan) February 21, 2020
@JustinTrudeau it is disgusting that you are putting the onus for ending the rail blockades on Indigenous leaders. Remove RCMP and CGL from Wet’suwet’en territory and nation to nation talks can happen.— Michelle Samara (@michLsamara) February 21, 2020
So how to you feel about the prime minister’s reaction? Vote in the poll above and leave your thoughts in the comments below.