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Barricades must come down, as Ottawa’s patience wears thin


February 21, 2020  


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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was working to end rail blockades led by indigenous protesters on Friday as farmers and businesses warned of mounting economic damage after two weeks of barricades.

However, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair suggested Ottawa’s patience is wearing thin.

“The time has come for those barricades to come down,” he told the CBC. If a peaceful solution cannot be reached, police have the legal right “to remove those barricades,” he said.

Protesters have blocked lines in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta in solidarity with a British Columbia aboriginal band seeking to stop the construction of a gas pipeline over its land.

The hereditary chiefs of that band, the Wet’suwet’en, will speak later today after meeting with the Tyendinaga Mohawk, who have been blocking a crucial Canadian National Railway Co line in eastern Canada.

“Dialogue is continuing hour by hour,” Trudeau told Reuters before meeting with his cabinet ministers to discuss the standoff.

The Wet’suwet’en are unhappy a detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is on their territory to keep protesters away from the pipeline.

Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan, the head of the RCMP in British Columbia, told Reuters police would “in good faith” relocate to a town outside Wet’suwet’en land.

“The RCMP recognizes the importance for this crisis to be de-escalated,” she said in a statement.

CN has laid off 450 people temporarily due to the blockage, and the Via Rail passenger service has laid off about 1,000. More are coming unless the situation is resolved soon, said Perrin Beatty, chief executive of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Opposition Conservative politicians have called on the government to clear the tracks. But given the history of violent clashes between police and indigenous peoples, Trudeau has so far insisted on a peaceful, negotiated solution.

(Reuters / CBC)