Train service between Montreal and Toronto has been cancelled for a third full day due to a protest near Belleville, Ont.
The demonstration started Thursday afternoon near a railroad level crossing in Tyendinaga Township to support an Indigenous group in northern B.C. fighting the construction of a natural gas pipeline.
VIA Rail’s website says passenger trains aren’t running between Toronto and Montreal, or Toronto and Ottawa, due to “the protesters currently blocking tracks.”
“While our trains are prepared to leave on schedule should we achieve line clearance, we are monitoring the situation closely with the command post and until the issue is resolved, departures from Ottawa/Montreal to Toronto and Toronto to Ottawa/Montreal can’t operate due to these circumstances beyond our control,” VIA Rail spokesperson Karl-Philip Marchand Giguere said in a statement Sunday.
The company has apologized for the inconvenience and said affected customers will receive a full refund.
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VIA Rail said that as of noon on Sunday, 92 trains have been cancelled. More than 16,000 passengers have been affected, though some may have made a partial trip or voluntarily cancelled their booking prior to departure, according to VIA.
The cancellation meant Marguerite Russell had to take Megabus to return to Kingston from Toronto on Saturday. But she said the inconvenience “didn’t matter” so much to her.
“I support the protesters,” she told Global News. “I think they’re right to support what’s happening out in B.C. I think it’s disgraceful that the RCMP have gone on that land in the way that they have.
“So it was inconvenient, it cost money, but we’re going to get a refund, we’re told, on our tickets for the train.”
A spokesperson for Megabus said the company is seeing an influx of passengers along its Toronto-Kingston-Montreal route.
The Canadian Press reported CN has been granted a court injunction allowing for the removal of the protesters, but the company did not directly answer questions on that matter in a response to Global News.
A spokesperson for CN, which owns the railway, said its police force and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are “responding” to the protest.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and we are evaluating all of our options as we are well aware of the impact this situation, that is beyond our control, has on those who depend on rail transportation to move goods and passengers safely and efficiently.”
The company said several dozen passenger and freight trains have been cancelled since Thursday evening.
The OPP detachment in nearby Napanee, Ont., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
In B.C., the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en Nation are protesting against the Coastal GasLink project. The 670-km pipeline would see natural gas flow from the Dawson Creek area to the west coast of the province, passing through the unceded Wet’suwet’en territory along the way.
The project does, however, have the go-ahead from 20 councils.
Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation — who established blockades and protest camps — say that because the land was never subject to a treaty, the ancestral chiefs have authority over the elected representatives.
Tensions have ramped up considerably in the last week. Four days ago, the RCMP began enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction establishing a protest “exclusion zone” to allow construction to proceed. Since then, more than 20 opponents of the project have been arrested.
In addition to the demonstration in Belleville, solidarity protests have cropped up in various cities since the injunction started being enforced.
On Saturday in Regina, Sask., a man was captured on video driving through a group of Wet’suwet’en supporters. Police say no one was hurt but they are investigating.
In Toronto, a freight rail line was blocked for several hours.
“This is a protest against anybody that would invade Indigenous lands on unceded territories,” protester Maya Menezes said.
“We’re here in solidarity with all the calls to action that the Wet’suwet’en have put out across the country for people to stand in solidarity with Indigenous self-determination.”
–With files from The Canadian Press, Kraig Krause, Ryan Rocca, Mickey Djuric and Sean Boynton, Global News