Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to reporters about rail blockades by activists protesting the Coastal GasLink project, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Conservative leader calls on pipeline protesters to ‘check their privilege’

Canada’s outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said protesters, blocking railway traffic across Canada in support of a small group of hereditary Indigenous leaders fighting construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory, need to “check their privilege” and stand down.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Friday, Scheer expressed frustration with the ongoing demonstrations against construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, which have brought rail traffic to standstill in large parts of Canada.

Canada’s largest cargo and passenger rail operators were forced to shut down service in large parts of their network Thursday amid the ongoing protests.

Protesters bring rail traffic to a halt

Ontario Provincial Police officers speak with protesters at a blockade of rail lines on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont., Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Protesters erected the blockade in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, who oppose a major pipeline project that crosses their traditional territory in northwestern British Columbia. (Lars Hagberg/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Officials at Via Rail said they had “no other option” but to temporarily cancel all passenger services nationwide, including service in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor, the busiest in the country.

CN Rail, Canada’s largest railway company, announced Thursday that it “has been forced to initiate a disciplined and progressive shutdown of its operations in Eastern Canada.”

“These protesters, these activists, may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege, they need to check their privilege and let people whose job depends on the railway system – small business, farmers – do their job,” said Scheer.

He called on law enforcement agencies to enforce court orders to lift the blockades.

He also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s in Munich, Germany, to attend a security summit there as part of his international tour to drum up support for Canada’s bid for a rotating UN Security Council seat, to return to Canada and deal with the crisis.

“As prime minister I would direct the RCMP to enforce the law to ensure that our railway system can operate,” Scheer said.

‘A country of the rule of law’

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany Feb. 14, 2020. (Andreas Gebert/REUTERS)

Speaking to reporters in Munich, Trudeau said his cabinet is “fully engaged” and said his travel plans to Barbados to meet with Caribbean leaders next week remain in force for now.

“We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are also a country of the rule of law and we will ensure everything is done to resolve this through dialogue and constructive outcomes,” Trudeau said.

He rejected Scheer’s call to order police intervention.

“Obviously, we are not a kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” Trudeau said. “We have professional police forces right across the country who are engaged in this issue.”

Trudeau said his Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has been in contact with all of the provincial and territorial premiers to help resolve the crisis.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is also slated to meet with Indigenous leaders in Ontario.

Mohawk protesters in Ontario have vowed to maintain their blockade of the CN rail line that passes through their territory until Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers leave the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en in northern British Columbia, on the other side of the country.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs had been blocking road access to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of a multibillion liquefied natural gas export project.

A joint meeting between the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs is in the works to discuss steps to resolution.

“We are working on it with a whole of government of approach,” Trudeau said.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said the Liberal government “is committed to working on these matters in a manner consistent with its broader commitments to reconciliation.”

Categories: Indigenous, Politics
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