No clear end in sight as Ontario blockade nears 2 weeks of halting rail traffic

Click to play video: 'First Nations leaders say blockades should come to ‘peaceful end’ if guarantees met' First Nations leaders say blockades should come to ‘peaceful end’ if guarantees met
Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said Tuesday blockades currently in place in different parts of Canada in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs should come to a peaceful end, but stressed guarantees must be made – Feb 18, 2020

The blockade near Belleville, Ont., that has stopped rail service in most of eastern Canada over the last two weeks is in its 13th day Tuesday.

Despite meeting with federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller Saturday for hours near the Tyendinaga, Ont., blockade, there has been no movement from the protesters, many of which are Mohawk First Nation members from the nearby Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

READ MORE: Tyendinaga Mohawk chief agrees to meet Indigenous services minister to discuss Ontario blockade

The blockade originally took up camp at the rail crossing at Wyman Road on the evening of Feb. 6 and stopped rail traffic only between Toronto and Montreal until Feb. 13, when Via announced it would be cancelling trips across the country due to this blockade and others like it across the country.

That same day, CN also announced it “has been forced to initiate a disciplined and progressive shutdown” of its Eastern Canada operations.

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Those cancellations, which do not include the Sudbury-White River and the Churchill-The Pas lines, are still ongoing. Nevertheless, Via announced Tuesday that it will be resuming services between Québec City – Montréal – Ottawa by Thursday, Feb. 20.

After Saturday’s meeting with the Tyendinaga protesters, Miller called the situation “volatile” and said most of Canada was hurting, especially the economy.

“The economy is slowing down. Everyone knows the reports about supply shortages,” Miller said in an interview.

He told reporters “some modest progress” had been made but said there was a lot of work left to be done. The minister then later went onto Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory for a further private meeting. Media were not allowed in for the meeting but people were seen “storming out” of the Mohawk community centre.

Click to play video: 'Indigenous services minister meets with protesters' Indigenous services minister meets with protesters
Indigenous services minister meets with protesters – Feb 15, 2020

“It really felt like it wasn’t genuine — it was a runaround, it was insulting,” one meeting-goer told Global News Saturday.

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In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday, Miller said: “These issues are not going away any time soon unless we do this the right way.”

What that way will be is still unclear.

The protest in Tyendinaga originally began as an act of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in northern British Columbia.

But the Ontario blockade, which has lasted longer than any of the others that have popped up across the country, has taken on a larger cause, as a means for protesters to speak about Indigenous treatment in Canada as a whole, and especially the Mohawk Nation on Tyendinaga territory. In part, protesters are demanding better resources, cleaner water and better treatment of their people as part of the protest.

“My people did not invade Europe. We’re home and we’re not going anywhere,” Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, an Indigenous activist from Attawapiskat First Nation, told Global News on Feb. 13, before the rail line was blocked off to reporters. “No longer will we be oppressed, no longer will we be subjugated, no longer will be we dehumanized, no longer will you terrorize us for free. That’s not happening anymore because guess it’s our children that we’re burying.”

READ MORE: AFN national chief urges calm, dialogue to ‘de-escalate’ as rail blockade continues

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In a press conference in Ottawa with several chiefs, including Tyendinaga Mohawk Chief Donald Maracle, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, said that he believes if RCMP agree to completely leave Wet’suwet’en land they originally entered Feb. 6, blockades across the country will lift.

“This is one of the requests,” Bellegarde said about the Mohawk blockade in Tyendinaga. “There may be options, but that is one of the requests.”

When asked what it would take for protesters near Belleville to finally leave the rail line, Maracle said he did not speak for the protesters.

“The protest was not organized by the Mohawk Council,” Maracle told reporters.

He said he may have information from the protesters that he could not share, because he wanted to “respect their rights.”

“I want to create good dialogue and I don’t want to say anything to promote any tension,” Maracle said.

In the end, Maracle said he believes dialogue organized between the federal government and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs will be a step in the right direction to get the blockade to stop.

READ MORE: Wet’suwet’en and B.C. government have been discussing path forward for a year

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In a speech delivered to Parliament Tuesday, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau addressed the blockades, saying the federal government is attempting the resolve the situation by creating “peaceful and honest dialogue” with protesters.

“It is time – past time – for this situation to be resolved. But what we are facing was not created overnight,” Trudeau said. “Finding a solution will not be simple. It will take determination, hard work and co-operation.

“We are not asking that you stop standing up for your communities, your rights and what you believe. We are only asking that you be willing to work with the federal government as a partner in finding solutions.”

Conservative Opposition leader Andrew Scheer criticized Trudeau’s comments, saying that at this point, the prime minister should have a clear plan laid out for how to address the blockades halting rail across the country.

“The prime minister’s statement was a complete abdication of responsibility and a failure of leadership,” Scheer said in Parliament Tuesday morning.

Since Feb. 13, OPP have not allowed reporters close to the blockade, and interviews have not been granted to Global News from those protesting.

An injunction obtained by CN was handed to protesters at the rail line Feb. 9, but no action has been taken by either CN police or OPP to remove the demonstrators.

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When asked Tuesday, OPP said there were no updates to give.

With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Kamil Karamali.

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