Most Via Rail train services in Canada are cancelled as CN announced a shutdown of its Eastern Canada network over blockades.
The only exceptions to the cancellations are the following routes: Sudbury-White River, which uses CP Rail infrasturcture, and Churchill-The Pas, using the Hudson Bay Railway.
“Following a notice from the infrastructure owner, CN Rail, that they are no longer in a position to fulfill their obligations under the Train Service Agreement between VIA Rail and CN Rail, VIA Rail has no other option but to cancel all of its services on the network with the exception of Sudbury-White River (CP Rail) and Churchill-The Pas (Hudson Bay Railway), until further notice,” said an updated statement on Via Rail’s website.
Via Rail says that train departures were cancelled as of Thursday afternoon.
“Upon infrastructure owner instructions, all VIA Rail trains currently en route will be brought to the closest major train station.”
Previously, Via Rail had cancelled all train service between Montreal and Toronto and between Ottawa and Toronto, cancelling all departures in both directions until the end of Friday due to the blockade near Belleville, Ont.
Via Rail says it will automatically issue full refunds for the cancelled trips, but cautioned that it could take up to 15 days for the transactions to go through.
“You do not need to contact VIA Rail to confirm the refund, but note that due to the volume of transactions it may take up to 15 days to receive,” the website said.
Earlier on Thursday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and B.C. Premier John Horgan were working to arrange meetings with Indigenous leaders in an attempt to stop the blockades.
Miller wrote a letter to three chiefs in Ontario regarding the protest on Tyendinaga Mohawk traditional territory that has halted freight and passenger traffic between Toronto and Montreal. He offered to meet at a location of their choice on Saturday.
“My request, that I ask you kindly to consider, is to discontinue the protest and barricade of the train tracks as soon as practicable. As you well know, this is a highly volatile situation and the safety of all involved is of the utmost importance to me,” Miller said in the email, a copy of which he posted publicly Thursday morning.
CN announced Thursday afternoon that it “has been forced to initiate a disciplined and progressive shutdown” of its Eastern Canada operations.
“This will include stopping and safely securing all trans-continental trains across its Canadian network and may imminently lead to temporary layoffs within the company’s Eastern Canadian operational staff,” a statement on CN’s website said.
The statement also said that Via Rail service between cities “will be discontinued” across CN’s Canadian network.
“However, commuter rail services, such as Metrolinx and Exo, can keep operating so long as they can do so safely,” the statement said.
A spokesperson for the southern Ontario regional transit agency Metrolinx told Global News that they are monitoring the situation.
Shortly after CN’s announcement, Teamsters Canada called on the Canadian government to “intervene to find a solution to the blockades.”
In a statement posted online Thursday, Canada’s largest union in the transport sector said the shutdown by CN could impact up to 6,000 workers at CN and other companies.
“We urge Ottawa to intervene to help find a solution as soon as possible,” said François Laporte, the union’s national president.
After landing in Munich on Thursday following a visit to Senegal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau briefly addressed the blockades, telling reporters: “We’re a country of the rule of law and we need to make sure those laws are followed.”
Trudeau also discussed the protests with B.C. Premier John Horgan, according to a summary of the call.
“The Prime Minister and Premier discussed how freedom of expression is an important democratic right, but activity must respect the courts and act within the law,” the call summary said.
“The Prime Minister and Premier also discussed how progress on both climate change and reconciliation must continue to be at the forefront of all government actions.”
Trudeau expressed a “desire to work together closely toward a resolution as soon as possible.”
“Both governments shared a commitment to meeting with Gitxsan Simgyget, Wet’suwet’en Dini Ze’ and Ts’ake ze to engage in an ongoing dialogue,” the call summary said.
Minister of Transport Marc Garneau echoed Trudeau’s words, saying he is “fully aware and deeply concerned by the impact of the decision CN was forced to take.”
“I am in constant communication with CN and CP,” he said in an emailed statement Thursday evening.
“I am meeting with my provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as representatives of national Indigenous organizations tomorrow and will be discussing a way forward.”
Garneau added that the government is “encouraged by the progress on the blockade” located in New Hazelton, B.C.
“This is a positive development and we are actively working for a similar resolution on all remaining blockades.”
Blockades went up last week across Canada, with organizers saying they’re acting in solidarity with those opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation near Houston, B.C.
Coastal GasLink says it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route, but the hereditary chiefs in the Wet’suwet’en Nation say they have title to a vast section of the land and never relinquished that by signing a treaty.
Without their consent, the project cannot be built, they say, and they’ve repeatedly gone to court to stop it — without success.
— With files by the Canadian Press