By Barry Ellsworth
TRENTON, Canada (AA) – Passenger train service in Canada was cancelled nationwide Thursday as protests by Indigenous groups continued, crippling the nation’s transportation network.
Canadian National (CN) Railway has also stopped all freight trains in Eastern Canada and warned of layoffs if the illegal blockades are not dismantled.
“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canada operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protesters,” said CN Chief Executive Officer J.J. Ruest.
The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation tribe in British Columbia did not sign off on a $40 billion natural gas pipeline to cross their territory, although elected officials of the nation did approve the project, as did 19 other tribes. The hereditary chiefs say they are the ones responsible for the land, not the elected chiefs. They and their supporters began disrupting construction of the project.
Other indigenous groups began blockades of rail services across Canada in support of the hereditary chiefs, who are not elected but are passed the title from generation to generation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is in Senegal, wrote the chiefs and said Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett will meet with them to try to resolve the issue.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police cleared protesters off the construction site in British Columbia, but blockades sprung up across Canada. Police authorities are taking a wait and see attitude, even though CN has obtained court orders to clear the tracks, making the blockades illegal.
Some want quicker action.
“The federal government needs to act, not only in meeting with these individuals of the Wet’suwet’en nation, but also by ensuring that the law of our nation is enforced and enforced very quickly,” said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
“The damage is already there to the economy. We are going to feel this for days, weeks and likely months to come.”
CN employs about 24,000 and transports more than C$250 billion in goods annually. Its passenger service – Via Rail – carried about 4.39 million riders in 2017.