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Wet’suwet’en solidarity protesters block CN rail lines in East Vancouver, Amtrak affected

Demonstrators opposed to Coastal GasLink pipeline project target Vancouver rail lines
Hundreds camped out on tracks in East Vancouver, in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters who are opposed to the pipeline in their ancestral lands. Nadia Stewart reports.

Protesters in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters were blocking a new set of rail lines in Vancouver Saturday.

Roughly 100 people gathered on the CN Rail lines crossing Renfrew Street near Grandview Highway in East Vancouver, protesting the building of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through traditional Indigenous territory and the resulting RCMP actions to clear the way for construction there.

What you need to know about the Wet’suwet’en protests.
What you need to know about the Wet’suwet’en protests.

“Colonial expansion of the Corporation of Canada was made possible through the construction of railways like the one we block today,” organizer Herb Varley said in a statement.

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Protesters handed out flyers that further explained the blockade’s purpose “in direct response to the actions of other nations across the continent,” referring to similar rail blockades led by First Nations in Ontario and northern B.C.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests: Here’s a chronological look at rail disruptions

“We want to recognize the shared history of violence experienced by Indigenous people and Punjabi and Chinese communities in so-called B.C.,” the flyers read, explaining why Saturday’s specific site was chosen.

The blockade comes soon after a separate group of protesters camped overnight on the tracks at the Canadian Pacific Railyard in Coquitlam, shutting down freight train service and the West Coast Express.

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Protesters have also blocked access to the Port of Vancouver and Deltaport until court injunctions forced them to move early this week.

CN says its own police service has responded, while train movements have stopped throughout the city. The company says it is monitoring the situation and “evaluating our legal options very closely.”

The company later said it had obtained court orders to end the blockade and two others that sprung up in Vaughan, Ont., Saturday.

Protests cause more problems in Metro Vancouver
Protests cause more problems in Metro Vancouver

Vancouver police are also on scene and monitoring the protest, and a spokesperson said they have plans in place to deal with any escalation.

“Our primary purpose is to protect the safety of the protesters, the public and the police,” Const. Tania Visintin said. “We respect peaceful protests and during public demonstrations, police response is proportionate to the activities observed.”

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Amtrak said it had turned back one of its Cascades trains to Bellingham and will be providing a bus to Vancouver. The company later said the rail line shutdown “has the potential to affect service into Canada until it is resolved.”

That shutdown was later confirmed by CN, who said Via Rail also continues to be shut down across the country.

“It is unsafe to allow passenger trains to start trips across our network when we have no control over where, when, or how an illegal blockade may occur. It would be irresponsible to allow the travelling public to be trapped in a blockade,” president and CEO JJ Ruest said.

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CN has shut down operations in eastern Canada due to continued rail line blockades led by members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario.

Another blockade created by the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs in the northern B.C. community of New Hazelton was recently taken down after the provincial and federal governments agreed to meet with the chiefs.

READ MORE: West Coast Express resumes service as protesters lift Coquitlam blockade

The chief responsible for the blockade told Global News the group would return to the rail line if that meeting proved to be fruitless.

The Canada-wide movement is aiming to shut down the country’s economy in the wake of RCMP enforcement of a court injunction against the Wet’suwet’en members blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline near Houston, B.C.

RCMP moved into the traditional, unceded Wet’suwet’en territory on Feb. 6.

READ MORE: Average Wet’suwet’en people caught in pipeline dispute crossfire, says wing chief

The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink 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.

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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.

New poll shows British Columbians divided over anti-pipeline protests
New poll shows British Columbians divided over anti-pipeline protests