Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 7 News List

Canadian PM calls for end to rail protests

PLEA FROM AFAR:An opposition leader called for Justin Trudeau to return from Senegal and meet with protest leaders, saying that the situation was escalating

AFP, DAKAR

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday urged a swift end to First Nations protests disrupting trains in Canada as police readied to clear tracks.

The demonstrators forced the cancelation of hundreds of passenger and cargo trains over the past six days, in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting the construction of a natural gas pipeline through land in western Canada.

Speaking during a visit to Senegal, Trudeau said the right to protest was fundamental to democracy, but added that the rule of law must also be respected.

“That is why I am encouraging all parties to dialogue to resolve this as quickly as possible,” he said.

Jagmeet Singh, an opposition leader, called on the prime minister to end his overseas trip and meet with the protest leaders.

“Across the country, the situation is escalating,” Singh said.

Police have warned protesters to leave a key rail corridor east of Toronto, or risk arrest.

Ontario Provincial Police spokesman Bill Dickson told reporters that police are “monitoring the situation” near Belleville, Ontario, while attempting to coax protesters off the tracks.

Over the past week, they have blocked roads, rails and ports on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and occupied government offices in a bid to “shut down Canada.”

Via Rail has said that more than 24,000 passengers have been affected by disruptions along a rail line connecting Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

Canadian National Railway said it would be forced to “shut down significant parts of its Canadian network imminently” unless the blockades were removed.

“It’s all Canadian supply chains” that are being affected, Canadian National Railway chief executive officer J.J. Ruest said in a statement, citing as examples containers carrying consumer goods, grain, deicing fluid for airports, construction materials and commodities.

Canadian National Railway, the third-largest railroad in North America, moves an estimated C$250 billion (US$189 billion) of goods across Canada each year.

The blockade near Belleville has cut off all rail traffic between eastern and western Canada, and between eastern Canada and the US Midwest. Another protest has effectively shut down Canadian National Railway’s northern British Columbia mainline between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

The protesters are demanding that police vacate Wet’suwet’en territory and the scrapping of the C$6.6 billion Coastal Gas Link natural gas pipeline.

Elected First Nations councils along the 670km pipeline route support the project, but hereditary chiefs who say they hold title rights expressed concern over its potential environmental impacts.

Their arrests in raids last week by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police enforcing a court injunction to stop blocking access to workers building the pipeline became a flashpoint for protesters.

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