Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs said Wednesday that a potential meeting with the Indigenous services minister this Thursday is not going to happen, despite an earlier signal that they would be open to the meeting.
The chiefs, who said that the right conditions were not met for a potential meeting, previously said that they were satisfied with the RCMP’s temporary closure of an outpost on their territory in B.C.
While no further talks between government officials and the hereditary chiefs have been scheduled to take place, they said earlier that Coastal GasLink must halt its construction of a pipeline for a meeting to happen.
The news came as travel disruptions continued Wednesday. Fires were ignited along railway tracks in Ontario amid ongoing protests in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in the morning.
Ontario Provincial Police said the fires, at a second protest encampment in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, brought morning freight train traffic to a temporary halt.
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Police spokesperson Bill Dickson said demonstrators lit a fire next to the railway tracks immediately after a train moved through the area near Belleville, Ont. He added that demonstrators then threw a few tires on the tracks and lit them.
Dickson said police and firefighters extinguished the flames, and the Canadian National Railway Co. was inspecting the tracks. However, footage from the scene showed smaller, new fires being lit later in the morning as train traffic restarted. Protesters were also seen briefly standing in front of an incoming train, and throwing rocks and branches at trains.
Several OPP officers were standing by the tracks as the situation unfolded, but said they currently had no plans to move in on the protesters.
On Wednesday evening, a vehicle was discovered on fire in the middle of the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks in Tyendinaga, but OPP could not confirm at the time if protesters were responsible.
Firefighters arrived at the scene near Shannonville Road and extinguished the blaze.
Protests in several provinces have been ongoing for about three weeks in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia who oppose the construction of a Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory.
On Tuesday, Ontario Provincial Police enforced an injunction and dismantled the rail blockade in Tyendinaga Township, which led to the arrest of 10 people.
The blockade had been cutting off a significant amount of rail traffic in Ontario and Quebec, halting CN Rail and Via Rail services. The first CN train travelled through the area before sunrise on Tuesday.
Several high-profile blockades were also dismantled by police in B.C. and Ontario earlier this week.
The clearing of blockades seemed to prompt new ones in different areas across the country.
The chaos that has engulfed Canada’s national rail system reached southern Ontario commuters, causing major delays and cancellations for GO Transit lines. Smaller blockades also surfaced in Quebec and other parts of Ontario on Tuesday.
The Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake in Quebec also continued its blockade near Montreal on Wednesday, despite CP Rail being granted an injunction earlier this week.
Kenneth Deer, secretary of the nation, stressed that the protests have remained peaceful and there are no weapons being used. Deer said the protesters have no plans to move until they hear that the Wet’suwet’en chiefs are satisfied with the situation.
Deer said any move to enforce the injunction would “exacerbate an already volatile situation.”
Indigenous youth who’ve been camping outside the B.C. legislature issued several demands in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs Wednesday. Spokeswoman Ta’Kaiya Blaney says demonstrators will occupy ministry offices, rail lines and other locations in order to hold all levels of the Canadian government accountable.
Blaney said reconciliation is dead and it is unacceptable for politicians to try to push the pipeline development through “at gunpoint.”
As blockades continued Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said discussions are continuing between the RCMP and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. He said as long as there is dialogue taking place there is hope of resolving the issue.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau also commented on the Tyendinaga situation, calling protesters’ actions “reckless.”
Garneau said Tuesday the CN and CP railways have been co-operating to move freight between Toronto and Montreal, despite the blockade of a key CN track connecting the cities.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, 51 health professionals in B.C. signed an open letter to the prime minister, B.C. Premier John Horgan, police and Indigenous leaders, calling for an end to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project.
They pointed to studies about the health and climate change risks from pipelines, plus a further warning from the American Journal of Public Health that Indigenous groups are especially vulnerable to such risks.
— With files from Global’s Sean Boynton and The Canadian Press