Enough already, say Barrie MPs of First Nation rail blockade

Prolonged rail shutdown could have serious consequences on the economy

The Ontario blockade halting rail traffic in much of Canada needs to run out of track, say Barrie’s two Conservative MPs.

Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard and Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MP Doug Shipley both said Tuesday that a solution needs to be found to the Mohawk First Nation rail blockade near Belleville, which has suspended passenger and freight rail service, sooner rather than later.

“I think negotiations have to come first; I’d like to see it end peacefully, but it’s going to get, at some point in time, where it’s (the blockade is) going to have to be removed,” Shipley said. “We can’t be held hostage forever.

“What needs to happen is we need the prime minister and the (Liberal) government to take strong action and get involved. We can’t sit on the sidelines. We need to get this resolved and it needs to be resolved quickly.”

Brassard said the solution to the blockade (since Feb. 6) near Belleville is clear.

“It needs to come down. There have been court injunctions,” he said. “The courts have determined the blockade is illegal. We know that it’s affecting a significant amount of our economy. Obviously the police need to act.

“Government legislates, the courts interpret the legislation and the police enforce the action, whatever the courts decide.”

Brassard also said politicians need to support the police when they enforce the law.

CN Rail has obtained a court injunction to end the Mohawk demonstration; it forbids any continued interference with the rail line, under threat of arrest. The injunction has been ignored by protestors, and OPP have not enforced it. The federal government, which has jurisdictional authority over railways, has not intervened so far.

Shipley says the blockade also needs to end because essential goods such as propane to heat homes and oxygen for hospitals are in short supply.

“I believe we need to try to come to a peaceful solution first, and I think we can, but we can’t be held hostage forever either,” he said. “We need to eventually get to the point where the rail lines become open. It’s essential for people’s well-being.”

Brassard said a statement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday morning didn’t move matters toward a resolution.

Speaking in the House of Commons just past 11 a.m. Tuesday, Trudeau said using force won’t help solve the situation.

“We need to resolve this through dialogue and mutual respect,” the PM said. “Everyone has a stake in getting this right. We need to find a solution, and we need to find it now.”

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Trudeau’s response to the situation was weak and a “complete abdication of responsibility”.

He said the government needs an action plan because the stakes are high.

“Will we let our entire economy be held hostage?” Scheer asked. “Nobody has the right to hold our economy hostage.”

A prolonged rail line shutdown could have serious consequences for the country’s economy, as CN moves more than $250 billion annually in goods across its transcontinental network. The shutdown threatens transportation of food, grain, de-icing fluid for airports, construction materials, propane supplies for Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and natural resources like lumber, aluminum and coal, the railway said.

Brassard had little good to say about Trudeau’s course of action.

“I can’t believe the weakness of the prime minister in talking about this issue the way he did and this lies squarely at his feet,” he said. “This will not end anytime soon and even if it does end within the next few days, you can be sure that more of these types of situations are going to occur because of the weakness of this government. I can’t stress that enough.”

Tyendinaga Mohawk protesters near Belleville say they won’t end their demonstration and rail line blockade until RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en in northern British Columbia.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders had been blocking road access to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project. Much of the police action ended Feb. 10 with multiple arrests, but the RCMP still has officers stationed near the pipeline construction site.

The pipeline runs through traditional Wet’suwet’en territory; its elected band councils have approved it, but hereditary chiefs of the five Wet’suwet’en clans have not.

Brassard says all 20 democratically elected Wet’suwet’en band councils voted to support the Coastal GasLink pipeline and 85% of the Wet’suwet’en people have voted to support this project.

“They see this as an opportunity for great prosperity for their First Nation,” he said. “They see it as an opportunity to create and generate income for Indigenous people within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, and so this is the reason they are all supportive of this project.

“The people who are engaged in the (Ontario) blockade are not speaking for the Wet’suwet’en people because the Wet’suwet’en people have already spoken in favour of the Coastal GasLink project,” Brassard said. “This is nothing more than eco-radicals who are looking to shut down the entire natural resources sector in this country. They’re using this situation as a template for greater insurrection across this country when it comes to other big projects.”

Shipley said there’s always a concern about more blockades, mentioning one Monday that closed Thousand Islands Bridge near the Ontario-New York border for about two and a half hours. OPP said the protesters were aligned with the Mohawks near Belleville.  

“It caused some tremendous traffic delays,” Shipley said.