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Rail blockades must be resolved ‘the right way,’ Indigenous Services minister says

Indigenous Services Minister updates progress with Mohawk First Nation
WATCH: Indigenous Services Minister updates progress with Mohawk First Nation

Canada’s Indigenous services minister Marc Miller said Sunday that solving the issue of the railway blockades, which have crippled both passenger and industry service across the country, must be done “the right way.”

On Saturday, Miller spent several hours meeting with members of Mohawk First Nation behind closed doors near a blockade on a CN Rail line on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont.

Railway blockade remains after protesters meet with Indigenous Services Minister
Railway blockade remains after protesters meet with Indigenous Services Minister

“These issues are not going away anytime soon unless we do this the right way,” Miller said in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday. “And yesterday was a small attempt to do so.”

READ MORE: Minister wraps up meeting with Mohawk First Nation members over blockades

The blockades, which have popped up across the country, are a show of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in northern British Columbia.

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After the meeting, Miller told reporters that “some modest progress” had been made, but said there was a lot of work left to be done.

Indigenous services minister meets with protesters
Indigenous services minister meets with protesters

On Sunday, Miller said the members of Mohawk First Nation were “very suspicious” of the meeting.

“They thought perhaps it was a trick,” he said. “It wasn’t. I went in there knowing that mistakes might be made, things said, but this was an opportunity to show a little bit of trust, to talk to people who are very fearful standing out there feeling targeted by the entire country.”

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en solidarity protesters block rail lines in Vaughan

Miller said by the end of the meeting “a bit of confidence” had been built.

“This is something that’s fluid, and is moving on an hourly basis,” Miller said. “But we remain committed and engaged to resolve this in a peaceful way.”

PM on foreign tour as pipeline protests rage on in Canada
PM on foreign tour as pipeline protests rage on in Canada

Miller said he briefed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau both before and after the meeting.

Speaking to reporters while in Germany on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged demonstrators to ease up blockades, but motioned that the federal government does not have plans to order RCMP action.

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“We are not a country where politicians can order the police to do something, we are a country that has confidence in its police forces and allows them to do their work in the scope of these blockades,” Trudeau said.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests — How Canadian law protects demonstrators

Last week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) received an injunction to enter a blockade on unceded Wet’suwet’en land, and in the days following, a number of arrests were made.

Since then, protests have sprung up across the country, disrupting not only rail lines but ports and bridges too.

When asked if the injunctions would be enforced, Miller did not offer a direct answer, but said the situation is both “volatile and compelling” to all Canadians.

READ MORE: Trudeau won’t force end to railway blockades; Scheer tells protesters to ‘check their privilege’

“And my job as a leader is the safety and security of everyone, and there are people that are feeling vulnerable,” he said.

“There are women and children, men that are standing out protesting. Their safety is of utmost importance to me.”

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Miller said at the same time, the rule of law is “also very important.”

Indigenous Services minister says solving rail blockades must be done ‘the right way’
Indigenous Services minister says solving rail blockades must be done ‘the right way’

“And I know when things go wrong — as I know we’ve done as a nation in the past — and I think we can do things better and move forward,” he said.

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“So this won’t be easy. The discussions need to take place.”

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“They need to be open, honest, with no duplicity, and we need to come to some resolution that is peaceful.”

Miller said that is the advice he has given to Trudeau, along with a number of other recommendations that he is “not at liberty to discuss.”

READ MORE: Via Rail cancels most trains across the country as CN shuts down rails in Eastern Canada

He said, though, that the proper use of police discretion and de-escalation is a “highly important part in these highly volatile situations.”

“These are peaceful people who want a peaceful resolution,” he said. “And we can’t have peaceful resolutions without dialogue.”

According to Miller, Canada’s minister of Crown–Indigenous relations Carolyn Bennett will be deployed to B.C. to continue discussions with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership and others.