Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a phone call with premiers across Canada on Thursday evening to update them on the work the government says is underway to reach an end to blockades in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation that have shut down railroads across the country for more than two weeks.
“Since the very outset of this situation, the federal government has been engaging directly with premiers and Indigenous leaders to work together on a peaceful and lasting resolution,” said a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office, released after the call.
Trudeau’s phone call with the Council of the Federation discusses infrastructure disruptions across Canada due to the blockades, and the “very real impacts on Canadian farmers, businesses, families, and workers.”
“The Prime Minister highlighted that we need our railroad system to be fully functional and that we are looking at our options to resolve the current interruptions given the impact on our economy,” the statement said.
It has now been 15 days since individuals set up a blockade on a major rail line in Ontario, forcing Via Rail to shut down passenger service and CN Rail to shut down its own operations. Both have since laid off more than 1,000 total employees as a result.
Trudeau spoke with the premiers about “the importance of ending the blockades as quickly as possible and reaching a peaceful and lasting resolution, in a way that builds trust and respect among all parties involved,” said the PMO’s statement.
“To that effect, the Prime Minister highlighted the close collaboration between his government and the BC government on this complex issue,” the statement said. Trudeau also noted the RCMP’s offer to withdraw from Wet’suwet’en territory.
“The Government of Canada’s priority remains to resolve this peacefully and to protect the rule of law in our country,” the statement said.
Those behind the blockades say they are acting in solidarity with some of the hereditary chiefs of B.C.’s Wet’suwet’en Nation who are opposed to the Coastal GasLink natural gas line project.
Four of those hereditary chiefs and a representative for a fifth are expected to meet with the individuals blockading that and other sections of the rail line shortly.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said on Thursday he is hopeful that meeting will lead to a solution.
“These are opportunities to come to a peaceful resolution,” Miller told reporters in Ottawa when asked about reports that four of the hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink project in B.C. and one representative for a fifth chief will meet with those blockading the railway on Thursday or Friday.
“I think this will give us an increased opportunity to have those discussions so we can de-escalate.”
Neither Miller nor Indigenous-Crown Services Minister Carolyn Bennett have yet been invited but said they would make themselves available if asked.
Details about the meeting are scarce.
While one of the hereditary chiefs did confirm on Wednesday that he and others would be travelling to Ontario to meet with people blocking the railroads at several sites over the weekend, there has been no official notice of a set meeting time.
Global News has made repeated attempts to reach out to members of the community to confirm timing for the expected meetings.
Those requests for comment have been refused or gone unanswered.
Members of the Mohawk community in Tyendinaga and Kahnawake say they are protesting in solidarity with five Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are against the natural gas project going ahead.
Those five hereditary chiefs are a minority of the 13 total hereditary chiefs of the community, the rest of whom support the project.
The elected band council for the Wet’suwet’en also supports the project, as do 20 other First Nations along the proposed route who have signed economic benefit deals with the company building the pipeline.
But efforts by RCMP in B.C. last month to remove protesters from the pipeline route in accordance with a court injunction have kicked off nationwide protests and blockades that have intermittently shut down a border crossing, blocked access to government buildings and shut down railroads across the country.
RCMP in B.C. offered on Thursday morning to move back from a barricaded area of the territory the Wet’suwet’en claim as their traditional lands.
That portion of the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline route is subject to a court injunction allowing RCMP to move protesters off the land.
RCMP will instead be moving to the town of Houston, located nearby.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Thursday he believes because of the RCMP move, “the conditions have now been met” for a resolution.
“I believe the time has come for the barricades to come down,” he said.