Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in talks over the weekend with federal cabinet ministers as protesters opposed to a pipeline project in British Columbia continued to halt train service across parts of the country.
Trudeau’s spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon said Sunday the prime minister had already spoken to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Carolyn Bennett, the minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Gagnon said Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller also briefed Trudeau about his hours-long meeting Saturday with representatives of the Mohawk First Nation near Belleville, Ont., where a rail blockade has shut down train service across much of Eastern Canada.
Gagnon did not reveal what Miller told the prime minister, and said the government would provide updates as they become available.
Miller said in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday that at the end of Saturday’s meeting “a bit of confidence” had been built.
Miller said he hoped for a peaceful solution.
“I came out of that meeting thinking, who are we as a country? Do we repeat the errors of the past? Thirty years ago, police went in guns blazing in Oka and someone died. So that shouldn’t be lost on anyone that’s telling us to go in there and impose law and order,” he said.
A police officer died during a police raid in 1990 when Mohawks at the Kahnawake reserve south of Montreal blocked the Mercier Bridge, which became the Oka crisis.
The Trudeau government has been criticized for not doing more to end the blockades, which have been erected to protest the Coastal GasLink project in northern B.C., which is part of a $40-billion LNG Canada export project in Kitimat.
Tyendinaga Chief Donald Maracle said he was not involved in Saturday’s talks and declined comment. Members of the First Nation at the blockade declined comment.
After meeting with members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk First Nation on Saturday, Miller said “modest progress” was made, but he wouldn’t elaborate.
“We talked openly, frankly, painfully at times, and sometimes with humour. There’s a lot more work to be done,” he said.
Miller said the focus of the discussions was on the natural gas pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia and is opposed by their hereditary chiefs. But he said other issues arose as well, without going into detail on what else was raised.
“The underlying issues did not arrive yesterday, they’ve been present in this community for hundreds of years.”
Members of the Gitxsan First Nation temporarily took down a rail blockade near Hazelton, B.C., Thursday pending a proposed meeting with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, provincial and federal governments.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett would be available as soon as arrangements for the meeting are made. B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser has said he will represent the provincial government.
But while the talks have been represented as a joint meeting with the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en chiefs to engage in dialogue on how the impasse over the pipeline development arose, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chief says leaders of his First Nation will only participate as witnesses.
Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said the meeting was proposed by the neighbouring Gitxsan and the Wet’suwet’en chiefs planned to honour the invitation.
“We have a willingness to move forward positively, we still have that in our hearts,” he said Sunday, while adding the Wet’suwet’en chiefs won’t budge on the pipeline.
“Our answer isn’t going to change. The pipeline won’t happen on our territory.”
Fraser said the meeting is scheduled to take place Monday in Victoria.
Blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en across the country have cut both passenger and freight rail services, including GO Transit services between Toronto and Barrie being affected on Saturday.
CN obtained a court injunction to end the demonstration near Belleville on Feb. 7, but the Ontario Provincial Police have not enforced it.
In Tyendinaga on Sunday, Karen Brant, who is non-Indigenous but lives on the reserve, said while the community is generally against the pipeline project, they’re split on whether the blockade is the right way to protest.
“People believe in what they’re fighting for, they’re just wondering about the impact it’s making on the economy,” said Brant.
“I think people are divided, but they believe in the cause and they want to fight for their cause.”
However, she said the issue has brought people together, and throughout the weekend Indigenous and non-Indigenous people showed up at the blockade to bring blankets, toiletries and warm food.
“It does pull the community together. It does show that kind of support that you might not have known you had before,” said Brant.
“It’s just unfortunate that it had to go this way to make a point.”
CN obtained fresh injunctions to stop three new blockades established on its rail network on Saturday _ two in Vaughan, Ont., and one in Vancouver.
An injunction in B.C. was enforced earlier this month by the RCMP to give Coastal GasLink access to a work site for the pipeline. More than two dozen protesters were arrested for refusing to obey it.
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route. However, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area and say band councils only have authority over reserve lands.
–With files from Global News and Canadian Press reporters Salmaan Farooqui in Tyendinaga, Ont., and Amy Smart in Vancouver.