Via Rail to resume partial service as pressure to end blockades mounts

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Via Rail says it will resume service on a total of four corridors ranging from Southwestern Ontario to Quebec, following days of cancellations stemming from blockades set up in solidarity with hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs.

The chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline, which would pass through the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern B.C.

The company said full service will resume on the Toronto-London-Windsor, Toronto-Sarnia and Toronto-Niagara Falls corridors on the morning of Feb. 20.

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Earlier Tuesday, the company also said service from Ottawa on trains 22, 24, 26 and 28 and service from Quebec City on trains 33, 35, 37 and 39 would resume Feb. 20 as well, and would be subject to partial service on weekdays and full service on weekends.

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The partial resumption of service follows a notification from CN Rail.

READ MORE: Timeline of Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests and the dispute that sparked them

All other Via Rail routes remain cancelled until further notice, the only exceptions being Sudbury-White River and Churchill-The Pas.

“VIA Rail is reaching out directly to passengers with reservations that have not been cancelled to update them on the latest developments,” spokesperson Marie-Anna Murat said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We remain hopeful for an end to the situation as soon as possible and encourage all relevant parties to continue their efforts towards a peaceful resolution.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been under mounting political pressure to end the blockades.

He told the House of Commons on Tuesday that finding the right solution “will not be simple” and offered to restart discussions between the government and First Nations.

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Trudeau says solution to blockades needs to be ‘found now’ but would ‘not be simple’ – Feb 18, 2020

“I am once again formally extending my hand in partnership and trust,” Trudeau said. “Over the last 11 days, our government has been working on a path forward even as many have been saying we should give up. We know what’s at stake. We know we cannot afford to fail.”

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An emergency debate in the House of Commons that focused on the matter continued until late Tuesday night.

Members of Parliament took turns criticizing Trudeau during the debate for past failed attempts at Indigenous reconciliation.

“We have landed in a predicament that can’t be fixed by police action,” NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said during the meeting. “If we listen closely, what we can hear is that there’s too much of a gap between what the government says about Indigenous Peoples and its actions.”

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said there was “undeniable truth” that self-determination was a better option and urged his government to take responsibility for its regressive policies.

Blockades began in early February after the RCMP enforced an injunction against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who were blocking construction of a massive natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.

Coastal GasLink, which is building the 670-kilometre pipeline, has signed agreements with 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, however, say they have title to a vast section of the land and oppose the construction.

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Hundreds of protesters march in support of Wet’suwet’en – Feb 17, 2020

Solidarity protests have emerged in Tyendinaga territory, near Belleville, Ont., as well as in Montreal and in Vancouver. A protest briefly impeded a U.S.-Canada border crossing just east of Kingston on Monday, but it later reopened.

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The blockades have shut down train service across major parts of the country. Many of Canada’s key industry groups have raised concerns about choked supply chains risking shortages of things like propane and chlorine.

CN Rail has obtained a court injunction asking police to end the obstructions, but so far, provincial police have not enforced it.

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

Trudeau participated in a closed-door emergency meeting with cabinet ministers Monday where they discussed options for a quick and peaceful resolution.

During his speech in the House, he acknowledged that Canada has betrayed First Nations’ trust in the past, which he says “underlines the difficulty in solving the situation today.”

But, he said, both sides have common ground — the desire for a solution.

“Everyone has a stake in getting this right.”

Part of that solution involves the B.C. and federal ministers tasked with Indigenous relations. The ministers recently penned a letter to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, saying they’re willing to meet for discussions at “the earliest opportunity.” At this point, no timeline for a sit-down has been set.

Opposition leader Andrew Scheer described Trudeau’s speech as the “weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history.” He said a clear path forward is still missing.

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Click to play video 'AFN chief calls for peaceful resolution to Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests, rail blockades' AFN chief calls for peaceful resolution to Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests, rail blockades
AFN chief calls for peaceful resolution to Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests, rail blockades – Feb 18, 2020

Earlier Tuesday, several First Nations leaders addressed the ongoing situation, expressing their deep frustration.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the uprisings across Canada emphasize the need for peace and dialogue. He said Canadians from all walks of life are coming together, asking Canada to “wake up.”

Bellegarde said the government needs to formalize and process with Wet’suwet’en people and grant time to have those discussions.

“Our people are taking action because they want to see action.

“No one said reconciliation would be easy. This is hard work. If we’re going to move this country forward, it’s long overdue. We need to see that nation-to-nation dialogue.”

READ MORE: Canada’s industry groups worried as Wet’suwet’en protests block ‘vital artery’ of railways

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Grand Chief Joe Norton of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake said the issue at the heart of the crisis is nothing new.

“This goes back in time,” he said.

“It’s time for us to come back together. It’s time for us to seek out the proper way of dealing with issues and matters as they arise. We have a partner, if you will — the partner is Canada and the provinces. They need to realize they are the cause of these things that happen. It’s not by accident. It’s by the ways the laws are put in place, the constitution, the courts — all that stuff is against us.”

— With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ David Lao