Rail traffic on a key line in southern Ontario has been halted due to protests supporting the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose members oppose a natural gas pipeline in British Columbia.
Via Rail said trains departing from Ottawa and Montreal en route Toronto, and from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal, have been interrupted “due to protesters blocking the tracks” near Belleville, Ont.
As of 11 a.m., several vehicles, including a snow plow and about five other cars, were parked at the edge of the Wyman Road railway crossing in Tyendinaga Township, but no vehicles were stopped on the tracks.
The protesters have raised flags and put up a sign reading “RCMP get out” and “Indian land.”
Protesters stationed at the railway crossing would not consent to be interviewed. It’s unclear how long the protest is supposed to last and when rail service on the line will begin once again.
“We are aware that this situation, which is unfortunately beyond our control, has an impact on our customers and we apologize for the inconvenience this situation is causing,” Via Rail spokesperson Karl-Philip Marchand Giguere said in an email to Global News. “Passengers should expect more details as the situation evolves.”
The shutdown of the rail lines is to show solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, who faced police action Thursday for blocking construction of the pipeline project.
The protest on the southern Ontario rail line is being organized by members from the community of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, east of Belleville.
RCMP moved into the Wet’suwet’en checkpoint camp in B.C. on Thursday to enforce a court injunction approved to Coastal GasLink, which intends to resume construction in the area. At least six protesters were arrested.
In a statement, RCMP said a “minimal amount of force” was used to make the arrests.
However, Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt’en clan, which is part of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, told Global News B.C. that the officers were not peaceful.
Wickham said officers came in with firearms and dogs, “overwhelmed everybody that were inside their tents” and “arrested everybody” before dawn.
The enforcement comes less than two days after the provincial government and the First Nation failed to reach an agreement during talks intended to de-escalate the dispute.
Ontario Provincial Police said that while there has been “some activity adjacent” to a CP Rail line in the Tyendinaga area, “there is no actual blockade.”
“The OPP is monitoring the situation, which began yesterday afternoon,” OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson told Global News.
He said it’s unclear how many people remain at the scene.
CN Rail police are leading the investigation into the matter, and said they are currently “monitoring the situation,” but would not comment when asked if they had any plans to step in and take any action against the protesters.
A spokesperson for CN said they would be updating the public if anything should change.
A similar protest took place Thursday evening, which stopped Via Rail trains from Toronto to Montreal and left some travellers stranded in Cobourg, Ont.
Cory Darby, a passenger trying to get from Toronto to Montreal Thursday night said the train was stopped in Cobourg for an hour before passengers were told a protest on the tracks would permanently delay their trip.
Darby said buses were originally called in to transport some passengers, but those buses never came. He was told there were too many passengers to transport, and bus companies did not want to travel out in the winter storm.
Darby told Global News that Via Rail eventually sent another train to drag their car back to Toronto, where they arrived at 11:30 p.m. The train originally departed from Toronto around 5 p.m. and was meant to arrive in Montreal around 9:30 p.m.
“While Via Rail did refund tickets, people paid out of pocket for accommodations and the additional cost of re-booking,” Darby said.
Darby decided on Friday to book a Megabus ticket to Montreal rather than risk being stuck on Via again. He said he considered taking a flight, but that option was too expensive.
“It’s not ideal to be on a bus right now,” Darby said referring to the snowstorm hitting eastern Ontario. “I’m watching a semi in front of us swerve… you can barely see the lines.”
He said he understands why the protesters were out on Thursday and Friday, but also felt like removing the option of rail travel and forcing passengers to get on the road in a snow storm might be a dangerous move.
He said he feels he’s “putting his safety at risk” because of the protest.
A rally has been organized in Ottawa to protest the government’s decision to have RCMP officers arrest those actively opposing the Coastal GasLink project. It was set to take place at noon on Wellington Street in the city’s downtown core in front of Parliament.
“A coalition of organizations and individuals on unceded Algonquin territory, Ottawa, are calling on the Canadian government and the B.C. provincial government to immediately bring an end to the RCMP raid,” a news release, written by Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Action Ottawa, read.
Another rally is organized in Kingston for Sunday afternoon — it is set to take place at McBurney Park at 2 p.m. A Facebook page for the event created by a group called Defend Unistoten Katarokwi also said “disruptive actions are planned all across Turtle Island (North America) all through the weekend.”
This is a developing story. More information to come.
— With files from Global News’ Sean Boynton and Alexandra Mazur, and the Canadian Press