Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Canadians to remain patient and “show resolve” in finding a peaceful solution to a series of Indigenous protests that have disrupted the country’s railway transport and threaten to undermine the Liberal government’s signature policy of reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians.
Addressing the House of Commons Tuesday, Trudeau said his government is committed to solving the crisis “through dialogue” with Indigenous protesters in Ontario who have shut down a key railway artery in show of support with a small group of Indigenous protesters in British Columbia.
The protests in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are fighting the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory in northern British Columbia are “a critical moment for Canada and its future, Trudeau said, acknowledging that many Canadians are “troubled with what they’ve been witnessing this past week.”
The call for help from Wet’suwet’en hereditary has garnered support from First Nations and non-Indigenous activists across the country.
Mohawk protesters in Ontario, more than 4,500 kilometres east of Wet’suwet’en lands, have staged a series of protests along a key railway line, disrupting passenger and freight railway services in much of the country.
Mohawk protesters at Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory have vowed to maintain their protests along the CN rail line that passes through their territory until Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers leave the traditional Wet’suwet’en territory.
Heavily armed RCMP officers arrested more than two dozen anti-pipeline activists two weeks ago at remote camps set up by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to block the construction of the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline.
“It is time, it’s past time for this situation to be resolved,” Trudeau said, adding that “finding a solution will not be simple” and will take “determination, hard work and cooperation.”
“There is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples,” Trudeau said. “And today as prime minister, I’m once again formally extending my hand in partnership and trust.”
‘A complete abdication of responsibility and leadership’
Throughout his address, Trudeau was heckled by opposition Conservative Members of Parliament, forcing House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota to interject and implore MPs to “take a deep breath.”
Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer denounced Trudeau’s address in the House of Commons as “the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history” and a “word salad.”
“The prime minister’s statement was a complete abdication of responsibility and leadership,” Scheer said. “The prime minister has emboldened and encouraged this kind of behaviour.”
Scheer said the Conservatives stand with “everyday hard-working Canadians.”
“Standing between our country and prosperity is a small group of radical activists, many of whom have little to no connection to First Nations communities,” Scheer said. “A bunch of radical activists who won’t rest until our oil and gas industry is entirely shut down.”
These activists are “are blockading our ports, our railways, and our borders and our roads and highways, and they are appropriating an Indigenous agenda which they are wilfully misrepresenting,” Scheer added.
‘A turning point for this country’
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet questioned why it took Trudeau 12 days to get involved and criticized the Liberal government for failing to present a clear plan to defuse the crisis.
“The solutions don’t seem any more clear,” Blanchet said, speaking in French. “The mistakes, however, are becoming more clear.”
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said the federal government needed to do more to engage with Indigenous Canadians “who are standing up because they are so frustrated, they’re so angry, and they’re right to be angry.”
Green Party Parliamentary Leader Elizabeth May said the crisis presents a “turning point for this country.”
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Independent B.C. MP and former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that while she “appreciated” Trudeau’s statement in the House, the prime minister needed to show leadership by getting on a plane to B.C., picking up provincial Premier John Horgan and getting up to Wet’suwet’en territory for direct talks to resolve the crisis over the pipeline.
However, government efforts to engage with Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs in northern B.C., as well as Mohawk protesters in Ontario have yet bring any concrete results.
An hours-long meeting between Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and the Mohawk on Saturday failed to end the blockade. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett flew to B.C. Monday to meet with Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, but that meeting never actually took place.
Bennett returned to Ottawa on the same day.
The acrimony between Trudeau and Scheer continued outside the House of Commons, when the Conservative leader was excluded from a meeting between Trudeau, Blanchet, Singh and May to discuss the government’s response to the ongoing blockades.
Speaking to reporters ahead of question period, Trudeau said Scheer “disqualified himself from constructive discussions with his unacceptable speech earlier today.”
With files from CBC News