Plans for Via Rail to resume service between Montreal and Quebec City have been dashed with the arrival of a new rail blockade in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the company said Wednesday.
A Via Rail spokesperson said trains travelling between the two cities will now be stalled until the end of Friday, Feb. 21. Passengers on those trains have been notified about refunds, the spokesperson added.
Service in the area was set to start moving again on Thursday, when service on other corridors in Quebec and southwestern Ontario is still planned to resume.
Trains will now only take passengers between Ottawa and Montreal on trains 22,24,26,28,33,35,37 and 39, which will begin partial service on Feb. 20. Full service between those two cities will be available on weekends.
Full service will also resume on the Toronto-London-Windsor, Toronto-Sarnia and Toronto-Niagara Falls corridors on the morning of Feb. 20.
All other Via Rail routes remain cancelled until further notice, the only exceptions being Sudbury-White River and Churchill-The Pas.
Protesters with a group known as MTL Wet’suwet’en Solidarity set up a blockade Wednesday afternoon on the Mont-Saint-Hilaire line in Saint-Lambert, Que., in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are protesting a natural gas pipeline project in northern B.C.
The group says it won’t leave the rail line until RCMP leave traditional Wet’suwet’en territory, which the hereditary chiefs say has never been ceded to the Crown.
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.
Nationwide blockades began two weeks ago when RCMP enforced an injunction requiring protesters to clear the way for Coastal GasLink workers to access a construction site near Houston, B.C., arresting 28 people.
RCMP have since lifted the enforcement zone but are maintaining a remote detachment in the area, which has been in place since early 2019.
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.
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.
As of Wednesday, Via Rail says the blockades have led to 599 trains being cancelled, affecting more than 111,000 passengers.
“Our passengers rely on VIA Rail for regular and safe intercity rail service and we are eager to resume operations,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.
“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.”
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have travelled to Ontario to meet with members of the Mohawk community in Tyendinaga and Kahnawake who are protesting in solidarity with them.
The chiefs say they will not meet with government until RCMP leave their traditional territory.
— With files from Rachael D’Amore and Kalina LaFramboise