Northern B.C. rail blockade to come down during talks

Update:

The B.C. and federal governments have agreed to meet with Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to discuss a blockade near New Hazelton, B.C.

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Gitxsan hereditary chief Norm Stephens said the blockade will be dismantled during the talks but if the province doesn't agree to cancel Coastal GasLink's permit then it may go back up.

This is a developing story.

A railway blockade near New Hazelton in protest of the Coastal GasLink pipeline is grinding 6,000 jobs in northern B.C. to a halt.

Protests in New Hazelton began on Feb. 6, according to CN Rail, blocking access into the port and forcing a number of terminals to cease operations.

“Already yesterday a number of terminals ceased operation," Port Authority president Shaun Stevenson told CBC on Tuesday.

"Without trains moving, there is lots of concern we’re starting to hear in the community, and it’s important to understand where we come from... there are 6,000 jobs that are involved in the transportation system, that are in Prince Rupert but also in places like Terrace, Smithers, and across northern B.C.

"All of those jobs are reliant on the reliability and the service that the Port of Prince Rupert has developed over the last number of years … We’re hopeful that a peaceful resolution can be reached and we can get back to operating," he said.

Opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline by a dissenting group of hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation has riled up protests that have targeted and blockaded rail lines, ports, highways, and bridges across the country.

CN Rail president J.J. Ruest said the blockades are stopping companies from shipping goods like lumber, aluminum, grain and other commodities.

"Factories and mines will soon be faced with very difficult decisions. The Port of Prince Rupert is effectively already shutdown," Ruest said. "We have obtained court injunctions for both locations and we are working with local enforcement agencies to enforce the orders."

VIA Rail has cancelled all passenger rail service between Prince George and Prince Rupert until further notice. It's not known how many passengers are affected.

Coastal GasLink says it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route across northern B.C. from Dawson Creek to Kitimat.

But there's a rift within the Wet'suwet'en on whether hereditary chiefs or the elected band councils can grant consent and sign agreements over major projects through their traditional territory. 

The opposing hereditary chiefs say they have title to a vast section of the land and never relinquished that by signing a treaty. Supporters of the pipeline and the elected councils point to votes of as high as 85% in the affected communities.

In a press release, organizers of the New Hazelton blockade say they are supporting the hereditary chiefs, and criticized the governments and Coastal GasLink for "divisive acts that pit Wet'suwet'en governments against each other."

"We take this action to support the Wet'suwet'en as they protect their rights and all of our rights to clean land, air, and water."

On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters who support the hereditary chiefs surrounded the B.C. legislature, preventing access and forcing the cancellation of some of the ceremonial events leading up to the reading of the throne speech.

Peace River MLAs Dan Davies and Mike Bernier were escorted through the throng by Victoria police and legislature constables, and Premier John Horgan has called the demonstration unacceptable after four people reported assaults during the protest.

Protesters have promised to resume their demonstrations Friday and shut down all provincial government offices in Victoria.

"It’s unfortunate to see these professional protesters shutting down important infrastructure affecting hard working people and their livelihoods," said Bernier.

"The Government needs to step up, and ensure public access and safety is maintained and tools given to the RCMP to deal with many of these illegal blockades." 

Bernier said Horgan was called upon in the legislature today to file a court injunction to bring the New Hazelton rail blockade to an end. Horgan demurred, and left the matter up to CN to manage, Bernier said.

Said Davies, "While we recognize that peaceful demonstrating is part of our rights as citizens, I must also point to the reality of what has been happening has not always been peaceful as we saw at the legislature this week. But, by threatening Canada’s economy and other citizens’ well being, that’s where the problems comes in and the government needs to intervene."

B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said public servants are prepared for Friday's protests on Friday, but said abuse of workers will not be tolerated.

Farnworth said there will be consequences if people engage in activities outside the law and he expects that will be enforced by police.

— with files from the Prince George Citizen, The Canadian Press

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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