Rail service in British Columbia was disrupted at two key points in B.C. Monday, as new blockades sprung up in the wake of arrests at a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk territory in Ontario.
Protesters forced the cancellation of afternoon West Coast Express service by occupying rail lines in Maple Ridge, while in northern B.C. members of the Gitxsan nation resurrected a blockade near new New Hazelton disrupting CN rail service.
Police moved in to clear both blockades before the end of the day.
Commuter service affected
Activist group the Red Braid Alliance (formerly the Alliance Against Displacement) took credit for the Maple Ridge blockade near 225th Street and the Haney Bypass on the Canadian Pacific rail line.
Around 6:30 p.m., CP police and the RCMP moved in and cleared protesters from the tracks.
TransLink said all westbound afternoon service was cancelled as a result of the blockade, but that service would resume as normal Tuesday morning.
The group, who describe themselves as land defenders, said the blockade was in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their battle over the Coastal GasLink pipeline and Tyendinaga Mohawk people who were arrested Monday for another rail blockade.
“We’re not just fighting for Indigenous sovereignty, we’re fighting for future generations from grandmother to grandson to granddaughter to great great grandaughter,” said blockader Destiny Morris who said she was of Nuu Cha Nulth and Gitxsan ancestry.
“This isn’t just for the Indigenous population, it is is for the whole Turtle Island’s (North America’s) population.”
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West expressed outrage at the repeat blockade, and took aim at the Red Braid Alliance.
“The people who are the target of this action are working people in our community who are doing nothing more than trying to get home to their family and they are the ones paying the price for this action,” said West.
“We have a very small, very fringe group that quite frankly just looks for excuses to engage in this kind of disruptive action, they’ve done it before in the past in our community, not related to this issue, but glomming on to other issues, and really it’s a group that just likes to cause chaos.”
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth took to social media to slam the blockade, describing it as “unlawful.”
“Police do not need an injunction to clear and arrest the blockaders. Commuters do not deserve this disruption,” wrote Farnworth.
Morris said she understood people’s frustration, but that the action had a larger audience.
“These commodities that come on to the CP rail line, this is a stance to shut down Canada,” she said.
“I understand that there are people who are angry, but this is a bigger movement and it is to defend the land — if you don’t have land to stand on, what’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen to you when our water is filled with oil, when the food we have to eat is toxic?”
Back on Feb. 13, the same group occupied an area of the Canadian Pacific rail yard in Coquitlam in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, forcing the cancellation of all West Coast Express service for the afternoon and evening commute.
Gitxsan blockade resurrected
In Gitxsan territory in northern B.C., hereditary chief Spookwx (Norman Stephens) told Global News about 40 members of his nation had re-occupied the main CN Rail line in the wake of continued RCMP presence in Wet’suwet’en traditional territory and the Mohawk arrests.
Multiple supporters and social media users reported that police arrived not long before 8 p.m.
Supporters say multiple people, including chief Spookwx and another 71-year-old hereditary chief, were arrested at the scene. Supporters moved to block the nearby Highway 16 in response.
“This was all being done in the dark,” said Spookwx’s wife Linda Stephens.
“It was pretty intense there were a lot of people drumming and singing as they made the arrests.
“I’m very upset to see people arrested on our own territory.”
Police have yet to confirm the arrests. RCMP referred questions to CN, as the rail line is in the jurisdiction of the company’s police.
CN has an active injunction ordering the rail line to be kept clear. Earlier Monday, Spookwx told Global News the Gitxsan do not recognize the authority of the injunction on their traditional territory.
On Feb. 13, the Gitxan had removed a blockade along the same rail line, pending talks with provincial and federal ministers.
“But to leave us hanging like this for this amount of time, when it could have been settled rather quickly, and then for them to start making arrests, arresting the Mohawks this morning is unacceptable,” said Spookwx earlier Monday.
Spookwx said there was also frustration that the RCMP was “dragging its feet” on pulling out of Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
He said getting parties back to the table — and ending the blockades — could be achieved almost overnight with political will.
“It’s a really simple process. Just get the RCMP out, then (Coastal GasLink) can stand down. Then talks will take place at a high level.”
Dawn Roberts, a spokesperson for the B.C. RCMP, says the contentious mobile RCMP detachment at the heart of the dispute has been temporarily closed as discussions are underway with the deputy commissioner about its future.
With files from Canadian Press