OHS Canada Magazine

Bolder actions, words from protesters behind Quebec and Ontario rail blockades

February 27, 2020
By the Canadian Press
Compliance & Enforcement Health & Safety Legislation Transportation Canada Fires railway safety Tracks

Safety a growing concern as demonstrators light fires, stand on tracks

Tensions on Canadian railways are escalating, causing concern for public safety. (festfotodesign/Adobe Stock)

(CP) — Protesters behind rail blockades in Quebec and Ontario ramped up their actions and rhetoric Wednesday as government officials accused them of compromising public safety.

In a video posted on the Real People’s Media website, demonstrators in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., were shown standing on rail tracks as a CN Rail train approached Wednesday, then jumping out of the way at the last second.

Provincial police said a handful of protesters also lit fires near and on railway tracks at a secondary camp that remained in place after a raid on another, larger blockade earlier this week.

The latest disruptions were denounced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who called the protesters’ actions unsafe.

“It is extremely concerning to see people endangering their own lives and the lives of others by trying to interfere with the trains,” Trudeau said.


Premier’s comments draw backlash

Meanwhile, Quebec Premier Francois Legault suggested provincial police had not moved in to dismantle a blockade on the Kahnawake Mohawk territory south of Montreal because those on the reserve are armed, potentially with assault rifles.

His comments, which came as protesters on the Mohawk territory south of Montreal reinforced a blockade that has been in place since Feb. 8, were rejected by the First Nation, which stressed the demonstration is a peaceful one.

Kenneth Deer, the secretary of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake, said the protesters are not armed and the suggestion that there are AK-47s at the site is “highly irresponsible and ludicrous.”

Earlier in the day, Deer spoke out against a possible intervention by outside police, saying any efforts to forcibly remove the site would be seen as an “act of provocation and aggression that will exacerbate an already volatile situation.”

“Ultimately, coercive state-sponsored force is the wrong way to make peace,” Deer said in a statement.

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador also took issue with Legault’s statements, urging him to be more careful in discussing the issue.

“Premier Legault is making very dangerous and offensive comments by suggesting the presence of weapons in Kahnawake,” AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard said in a statement.

“He certainly did not consider the consequences of his words for community members who live with the memories of 30 years ago on a daily basis.”

The rail company obtained an injunction on Tuesday to end the blockade, one of several such protests in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline cutting across their traditional territory.

Disruptions continue, despite law involvement

Rail and road disruptions have continued in recent days after several high-profile blockades were dismantled by police in B.C. and Ontario earlier this week.

The agency responsible for a major commuter rail service covering much of southern Ontario said Wednesday it was not anticipating any of the delays and cancellations that brought trains to a standstill during the previous day’s rush hour.

Metrolinx, operator of the GO Transit network, suspended service Tuesday on multiple routes as a series of protests sprang up in and around Toronto.

City police said they arrested three people at the demonstrations. They said Wednesday morning that officers provided protesters with an injunction and began moving them from rail tracks.

The blockade had threatened to delay morning commutes west of the city, but police said the rail line has been cleared and most commuter rail lines were running on time or with minor delays.

Demonstrators also set up new sites in Ontario and Quebec this week, though some dispersed or were dismantled in less than a day.

A protest at a GO station in Hamilton caused numerous cancellations and delays starting Monday evening, but local police said protesters left the blockade site in the city peacefully at around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Other new disruptions that surfaced Tuesday included a blockade along a highway near the site of an ongoing land dispute in Caledonia, Ont., and one along a stretch of rail in Sherbrooke, Que., about 150 kilometres east of Montreal.

Police moved in to end the Sherbrooke blockade on Tuesday afternoon, arresting protesters who had blocked a rail line in the city’s Lennoxville district. The protest along Highway 6 in Ontario remains active.

Hope for meeting continues

The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose opposition to the Coastal GasLink project has spurred the widespread protests and disruptions, were meeting in British Columbia on Wednesday.

Federal officials said they were waiting to hear whether the hereditary chiefs would invite them and their provincial counterparts to discuss the issue but late Wednesday one of the chiefs said plans for a meeting had been cancelled.

Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said government officials asked the hereditary chiefs to request that its supporters and other First Nations end their protests and blockades, but the chiefs said they can’t tell others what to do.

The federal governments could not immediately be reached for comment, but the B.C. premier’s office said it is “unfortunate” an agreement couldn’t be reached to meet with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

“We had hoped the hereditary chiefs would agree to a period of peace and respect during the talks, which would include encouraging their supporters to remove blockades,” the premier’s office said in a statement.

With files from Liam Casey in Toronto, Dirk Meissner in Victoria, Amy Smart in Vancouver, and Teresa Wright in Ottawa

Copyright (c) 2020 The Canadian Press


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