UPDATE: Protesters lifted their rail blockade around 8:30 a.m. Friday morning.
Protesters supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in northern B.C. have set up a new blockade at the Canadian Pacific Railyard in Coquitlam, shutting down train service for Metro Vancouver.
The blockade near the Pitt River Bridge led to the shutdown of West Coast Express service from downtown Vancouver to Mission Thursday afternoon.
TransLink later confirmed the West Coast Express will not be running Friday morning as protesters are preventing staff from moving trains and conducting maintenance and safety inspections.
A bus bridge will be in place for commuters heading from Mission City to the Coquitlam Central SkyTrain station. Commuters then will be able to SkyTrain into downtown Vancouver from there.
“Please note that buses are expected to be busier than normal,” TransLink said in a statement. “We ask that customers try and seek alternative modes of travel.”
Blockade organizers Red Braid Alliance said the new blockade was part of the “Shut Down Canada” movement that has seen similar blockades of CN Rail and Via Rail service across the country.
“A lot of the land defenders who are here today also took part in port blockades in Delta and Vancouver,” organizer Isabel Krupp said.
“We are here to affect the transportation of goods across stolen land. We are standing strong with Wet’suwet’en and we will not leave until RCMP leave their territory.”
Krupp said the group is planning to spend the night blocking rail activity on the tracks.
When asked about the resulting disruption to the West Coast Express — a service used by more than 5,000 commuters each direction every weekday, according to TransLink — Krupp said it wasn’t the group’s intention to impact working people.
“We’re doing what we have to do, what we’re called to do,” she said. “If that means some inconvenience, if that means some sacrifice, we think that should motivate people who miss the train or miss a day of work to show how important this is.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth expressed his outrage over the commuter train shutdown on Twitter, calling it “unacceptable and a disgrace.”
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, meanwhile, urged local MLA Farnworth, RCMP and CP Rail to find an “immediate end to this action against our residents.”
“This evening I spoke to a PoCo resident who was not able to get to her 2 year old son’s daycare in time because of the blockade,” West tweeted. “The overage at daycare cost her $100, half her day’s wage.
“The protestors have deliberately targeted the commuter rail line in order to maximize the damage and chaos inflicted on people in PoCo, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge & Mission who have limited transit options. It must not stand.”
Speaking to CKNW’s Charles Adler, West was even more pointed.
“At times like this we look to our senior levels of government to demonstrate some leadership,” the mayor said. “So if they haven’t already, my expectation is that they would be saying to the RCMP in this country, ‘We follow the law, and your job is to enforce the law and let’s get it done.'”
RCMP and CP Rail police were soon seen gathering at the rail yard, talking to protesters. No arrests have been reported.
A spokesperson for CP Rail said they are monitoring the situation, but did not confirm any further actions being taken against the protesters.
Organizers later said CP was seeking an injunction, but the company has not confirmed they are taking that step.
Injunctions were used by the Port of Vancouver and the marine workers’ union to clear the port blockades in Vancouver and Delta earlier this week.
The new blockade was set up at the same time that another blockade set up on the CN Rail line near New Hazelton, B.C., was taken down. That blockade had been place since Saturday and was blocking all shipments to the Port of Prince Rupert.
Blockades were erected after the RCMP enforced a court injunction last week against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been stopping construction of the pipeline, a key part of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.
Thursdays actions were just two of dozens of protests that have sprung up across the country since the RCMP moved into traditional, unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. to enforce a court injunction on behalf of the Coastal GasLink project.
The $6.6-billion project is meant to carry natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat.
The company has signed benefits agreements with all 20 elected Indigenous councils along the route.
But hereditary chiefs who oppose the project say elected councils only have jurisdiction over First Nations reserves. The hereditary chiefs claim authority over rights and title to land that was never covered by treaty.