Protesters supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their opposition to a natural gas pipeline in Northern B.C. have packed up a rail blockade that ground West Coast Express commuter service to halt overnight.
The group said it was lifting the blockade at the Canadian Pacific rail yard in Coquitlam because they did not want to take attention away from the annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver scheduled for Friday at noon.
“We’ve decided to take our hearts and move our bodies to downtown,” said Frank Joseph one of the blockaders.
“We just feel like it was really important for our presence to be there even though our hearts are with Wet’suwet’en.”
The blockade was organized by the Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism, the new name for the activist group Alliance Against Displacement that’s made headlines at a variety of homeless camps including Maple Ridge’s Anita Place.
“We are here because RCMP are there (in Wet’suwet’en territory), that’s the reason why we are doing this, that’s the reason why people’s commute is a little bit longer,” said Joseph.
“Our voice has been too quiet and we wanted to speak up. And sometimes if it really means we have to start yelling and have to get in the way to get people to actually understand what we’re trying to say, then we want people to hear us.”
The end of the blockade came before any arrests or an injunction.
The group set up its blockade just before the afternoon commute on Thursday, prompting TransLink to cancel all eastbound West Coast Express service for the remainder of the day, along with westbound service on Friday morning.
Commuters were instead directed to a bus bridge from Mission City to the Coquitlam Central SkyTrain station.
The blockade added hours onto the daily commute for many travellers — prompting frustration from some who said they actually supported the protesters’ cause.
“I’m all for defending your land rights, and I’m generally in support of the protests,” said Mission resident Ashton Dickenson.
“But blocking the every day Canadian that you want to support you in the struggle from getting to and from their job and carrying out their daily lives is not the way to garner support.”
Before the blockade was lifted, Micheal Heins of Abbotsford told Global News he was considering booking a hotel room in the city.
“You’re only going to lose the general public’s support, and if the general public doesn’t want to support you your protest as already lost all of its reason,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth called the rail blockade “unlawful” and “unacceptable,” but said it took place on private property and that it was up to Canadian Pacific police to decide how to safely handle the situation.
However, he said it is well within police departments’ power to remove protesters if they are disrupting the flow of good or people.
“In the case of these unlawful blockades, like blocking West Coast Express for example, people engaged in unlawful activity should be removed and should be arrested and charges laid if deemed appropriate,” he said.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West had similar words for the protesters.
“There’s 11,000 trips that happen on the West Coast Express,” he said. “It caused a huge amount of chaos.”
West said if the protesters return there needs to be “immediate action.”