Trudeau says Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades ‘need to come down now’

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says barricades across Canada ‘need to come down now’' Trudeau says barricades across Canada ‘need to come down now’
WATCH: On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that although the government will “never close the door on dialogue,” discussions regarding the rail blockades occurring across Canada “have not been productive” and that the “barricades need to come down.” – Feb 21, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the time has come to end the Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades that have shut down railroads across the country for two weeks.

His comments to reporters marked a hardening of tone and come as pressure mounts on the government to act to end the blockades and as even Liberal caucus members have begun to use language in recent days suggesting the patience the government has asked Canadians for is wearing thin.

READ MORE: Blockade trips up Canada’s biggest ports as shippers steer clear of rail closure

“Every attempt at dialogue has been made but discussions have not been productive. We cannot have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table,” said Trudeau in a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.

“The fact remains: the barricades must now come down. The injunctions must be obeyed and the law must be upheld.

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“Let me be clear, our resolve to pursue the reconciliation agenda with Indigenous people is as strong as ever.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says government believes ‘in a peaceful resolution’ to nationwide rail blockades' Trudeau says government believes ‘in a peaceful resolution’ to nationwide rail blockades
Trudeau says government believes ‘in a peaceful resolution’ to nationwide rail blockades – Feb 21, 2020

Several hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en Nation in B.C. oppose the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline set to be built through the land they claim as their traditional territory. But the elected band councils for that and 20 other First Nations communities along the route support the project.

The result has been tension over which group speaks for the interests of the community.

Those tensions escalated after RCMP enforced a court injunction last month that let them begin removing activists from a blockade set up on the pipeline route.

The arrests sparked nationwide protests and blockades that have intermittently shut down border crossings, railroad lines and service, barred access to government buildings, and prompted provincial leaders to warn about looming shortages of essentials like propane.

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READ MORE: Will Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests set the stage for what’s to come with TMX?

Trudeau said the federal government continues to believe that dialogue is the best solution and will continue to be available to speak with Indigenous leaders.

“That is what we have done,” he said.

More than 1,000 rail workers have been laid off by Via Rail and CN Rail as a result of the blockades, which forced the companies to shut down the majority of their rail service — both passenger and freight — across the country.

Via Rail is slowly restoring service, announcing Friday that trains will start moving between Montreal and Ottawa full-time starting Saturday, continuing with full weekday service starting Monday.

Routes connecting Toronto to Niagara Falls, London and Sarnia are already back up and running, but others — including major connections between Toronto and Ottawa, and Montreal and Quebec City — aren’t expected to resume until next week at the earliest as the Tyendinaga blockade remains in place.

Click to play video: 'Frustration grows over protests and blockades across Canada' Frustration grows over protests and blockades across Canada
Frustration grows over protests and blockades across Canada – Feb 20, 2020

While the RCMP in B.C. have agreed to a demand by some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the project for the force to leave the site of the barricades it has erected on the pipeline route, Trudeau said the efforts of the government and police are not yielding any results.

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He said the responsibility now lies with Indigenous leaders and with police.

“The intervention in the case of the Tyendinaga blockade is the responsibility of the Ontario Provincial Police,” he said.

“We continue to be hopeful that the leadership within these Indigenous communities will find a way to bring down these barricades peacefully, but as a federal government we have exhausted our capacity to engage in a positive, substantive, active way.”

Several leaders from the Tyendinaga Mohawk community and several of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs held a press conference on Friday following Trudeau’s and in it, they said they would not end the barricades because the RCMP in B.C. have not left the territory the Wet’suwet’en claim as their traditional lands.

In addition to that full removal, Chief Woos Frank Alec, one of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, said they will not be satisfied until all work on the Coastal GasLink project stops. But Coastal GasLink has said in recent days that the project will still go ahead.

Click to play video: 'Wet’suwet’en chief says trains can pass through once all RCMP have left their territory' Wet’suwet’en chief says trains can pass through once all RCMP have left their territory
Wet’suwet’en chief says trains can pass through once all RCMP have left their territory – Feb 21, 2020

The question now is what will happen in the coming days if the blockades do remain in place.

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The potential for violent clashes with police if they do step in to remove the barricades — or a repeat of the Oka Crisis — is a major factor in why the government has tried to give time for ministers and protesters to meet to agree on a way forward.

But when Trudeau was asked by reporters about what message he was sending to police forces across the country now, he was clear.

“My message is to everyone in Canada. My message is that injunctions must be obeyed. Barricades must come down. But we must look to see this happen peacefully,” he said.

“The responsibility of law enforcement in this country is to keep the peace and ensure that laws are enforced and we need to enforce those laws. How they do that, when they do that, is part of their professionalism.”

READ MORE: RCMP agrees to leave Wet’suwet’en territory, feds call for ‘urgent’ talks

Since the start of the blockades more than two weeks ago, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been calling for the government to direct the RCMP to intervene and remove them.

However, while the public safety minister can issue broad directives to the force, operational and daily matters remain under the purview of the RCMP commissioner.

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Scheer on Friday acknowledged those limited powers, as well as the fact that the Ontario Provincial Police are not under the federal government’s jurisdiction — but added Trudeau could change that if he wanted.

“If Justin Trudeau feels that there are jurisdictional issues or authority issues that he doesn’t have the tools that he needs at his disposal, he can certainly come to Parliament and ask for them,” he said. “We’d be willing to sit down and listen to what those proposals are.

“To date, all we’ve heard are platitudes, mixed messages, contradictory messages, so you’d pardon me if I don’t take [the prime minister] at his word today.”
Click to play video: 'Tensions mount in Saint-Lambert after injunction served' Tensions mount in Saint-Lambert after injunction served
Tensions mount in Saint-Lambert after injunction served – Feb 21, 2020

Over recent days, though, it hasn’t just been Conservative critics and business groups saying something needs to change.

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Liberal MPs Joel Lightbound and Chris Bittle have both spoken over the last two days about the limits of dialogue in resolving the situation.

“We’re doing what we can. It’s up to law enforcement to do their job but we’re moving forward on our side through negotiation, through dialogue. We’re asking Canadians for their patience,” Bittle told reporters prior to Trudeau’s remarks on Friday.

“There’s a limit to that dialogue but we’ll do what we can and we trust the RCMP to do their job.”

—With files from Sean Boynton

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