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Via Rail to temporarily lay off 1,000 workers amid rail blockades

Conservatives say Liberals aren’t taking workers into consideration during heated debate on railway blockades
WATCH: Conservatives say Liberals aren't taking workers into consideration during heated debate on railway blockades

Via Rail says partial passenger train service will not resume this week — as was previously announced — while the company moves to temporarily lay off nearly 1,000 people.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Via says it “has no choice but to continue the cancellation of its services on a large part of its network” while CN Rail lines in other parts of the country remain closed.

As a result, Via says roughly 1,000 of its employees’ jobs will be temporarily suspended.

READ MORE: Hereditary chiefs say they won’t meet with ministers until RCMP detachment removed

The news comes one day after CN Rail granted Via permission to resume service on a total of four corridors between southwestern Ontario and Quebec. The routes were due to open Feb. 20.

Economy taking hit from rail blockades, COVID-19
Economy taking hit from rail blockades, COVID-19

Sudbury-White River and Churchill-The Pas are the only exceptions at this time, the company says. More than 530 passenger trains have been cancelled since the blockades began on Feb. 6

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“VIA Rail was pleased to have obtained authorization yesterday from CN Rail to resume partial service,” spokesperson Marie-Anna Murat said in a statement.

“Despite these latest developments, however, until CN Rail opens the remaining tracks for service, Via Rail has no choice but to continue the cancellations of its services on a large part of its network.”

Railway blockades continue across Ontario
Railway blockades continue across Ontario

Layoff notices will be sent to affected employees on Wednesday. The company said terms of the collective agreements “will be respected.”

Via Rail’s president and CEO, Cynthia Garneau, called the situation “unprecedented.”

“In 42 years of existence, it is the first time that VIA Rail, a public intercity passenger rail service, has to interrupt most of its services across the country,” Garneau wrote in a statement.

“Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been closely working with the infrastructure owner in order to formulate a progressive, safe and orderly resumption plan. We have done everything to mitigate the impact on our employees and our passengers. At this point, we believe we have made the fairest and most reasonable decision with the proposed temporary suspension plan.”

READ MORE: CN Rail to lay off around 450 workers amid rail blockades

The back-and-forth debacle on Canada’s railways stems from blockades at rail lines across the country, set up two weeks ago in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposed to the construction of a massive natural gas pipeline in northwestern B.C.

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The protests have emerged at rail lines in Ontario, Montreal and B.C., tangling a huge swath of the network.

On Tuesday, CN Rail announced that it would lay off around 450 of its workers following hundreds of train cancellations and network suspensions. The national railway announced plans to lay off roughly 1,600 employees last year, citing international trade tensions and slowing economic growth.

But as protests and blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have persisted at rail lines across the country, CN says a “progressive and methodical” shutdown was necessary.

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

READ MORE: House of Commons gets heated during debate on Wet'suwet'en protests

In Parliament, Trudeau said the protests and the ramifications represent a “critical moment” for Canada. He said a solution will not be simple, and offered to restart discussions with protesters and First Nations leaders.

He has not yet offered a concrete way forward but said Wednesday that his government is working on a solution.

“We know that people are facing shortages, they’re facing disruptions, they’re facing layoffs. That’s unacceptable,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to continue working extremely hard with everyone involved to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”

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Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe will be hosting a conference call of Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders Wednesday to discuss the fall out from the protests and the blockades.

On Twitter, Moe said the call was to address “a lack of federal leadership in addressing this ongoing illegal activity,” and linked to an article about the layoffs at CN Rail.