Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday the CN and Via rail stoppages have made life "really difficult" for Canadians, but the best way to resolve ongoing Indigenous blockades is "constructive dialogue" with First Nations protesters.
"We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are also a country of the rule of law and we will ensure everything is done to resolve this through dialogue and constructive outcomes," Trudeau said.
Trudeau rejected a call from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer today to direct the RCMP to intervene and arrest the Mohawk protesters behind an illegal blockade near Belleville, Ont. that is snarling rail traffic.
"Obviously, we are not a kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters," Trudeau said as the nationwide rail shutdowns entered their second day. "We have professional police forces right across the country who are engaged in this issue."
Indigenous Services Minister Mark Miller will meet with Mohawk representatives Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in Tyendinaga, Ont., the Prime Minister's Office has confirmed.
Trudeau said he still plans to travel to Barbados next week to meet with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to stump for votes for Canada's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since CN Rail announced a massive shutdown of its eastern Canadian network Thursday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Ottawa is not prepared to take any action at this point beyond sending cabinet ministers to meet with First Nations protesters.
Garneau said it's up to the provincial police to enforce a court order to clear away the illegal blockade. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has so far refused to move protesters away from the rail lines. The protesters have also dismissed requests from on-reserve Tyendinaga Police to leave voluntarily.
Asked why the government has allowed the southern Ontario rail blockage to stretch on for over a week, Garneau said Ottawa has been actively engaged on the file.
"The government has been working every day, I can assure you, since this happened," Garneau said. "Freedom of expression and peaceful protest are among the most fundamental and cherished rights in a democracy such as Canada, and must be respected and protected."
Scheer calls on police to act
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Friday it's time the prime minister directed the RCMP to enforce the law.
"Quite frankly, this is getting ridiculous. Radical activists, many of whom have no connection to the Wet'suwet'en people, are holding our economy hostage. Meanwhile our prime minister has been out of the country on a vanity project to win a vote at the UN, neglecting his duties here at home," Scheer said, citing Trudeau's trip to Africa. Trudeau is set to return to Canada in the early morning hours of Saturday.
"Do the right thing, Prime Minister Trudeau. We can't allow a small number of activists to hold our economy hostage and threaten thousands of jobs. I believe it's time for the law to be enforced. Law enforcement should enforce the law. We have court orders, court injunctions. They need to be respected."
The proper exercise of police discretion should not be confused with a lack of enforcement - Bill Dickson, OPP
A spokesperson for the OPP defended officers' actions on the scene at Tyendinaga, saying police are exercising caution in implementing the court injunction and are following a "framework for police preparedness for Indigenous critical incidents," which demands that police deploy a "measured and sensitive response" to the blockades.
"The proper use of police discretion is a valid, appropriate approach to de-escalating situations such as this. The proper exercise of police discretion should not be confused with a lack of enforcement," said Bill Dickson, the OPP East Region communications officer.
"The OPP calls on those involved to abide by the court injunction and to not put public peace or anyone's safety in jeopardy. Once again, our goal is to seek a safe and peaceful resolution to this situation."
Garneau said the OPP is treading carefully because of past police actions that led to violence against Indigenous people.
"They have to take into account some history here, and when we're talking about what happened at Ipperwash or Caledonia — it is their decision about how to approach that. But the injunctions have to be respected because we are a country of the rule of law," Garneau said.
An Ojibwa protester was killed in 1995 after the OPP cleared people from the Ipperwash Provincial Park, which was claimed by the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation.
CN Rail received an extension to its injunction Friday — indefinitely extending the timeline for police to arrest Mohawks assembled along the tracks.
"If anything, the situation has become more serious," CN lawyer Marina Sampson said in court while arguing that the order issued on Feb. 7 should be extended.
"CN and its railway is being used as a pawn," Sampson said, adding that the Canadian public "is subject to the consequence and impact of that."
A prolonged shutdown of CN's eastern Canadian operations could have devastating consequences for the country's economy. CN moves more than $250 billion a year in goods across its transcontinental network.
The shutdown threatens the transport of food and consumer items, 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.
Justice William Chalmers granted CN the extension and expressed frustration with the OPP's failure to enact the injunction to this point.
Chalmers said the injunction is not supposed to be used as lever to open conversations between the police and protesters. Rather, he said, it is meant to bring unlawful conduct to an end.
The judge said the OPP should arrest and charge the protesters and hand over the names of the protesters to CN so they it pursue civil litigation for damages.
'They need to check their privilege'
The Mohawk activists in Belleville, Ont. have said they won't end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en in northern B.C. 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.
While much of the police action near that road ended Tuesday with multiple arrests, the RCMP still has officers stationed near the pipeline construction site.
Garneau said "dialogue" and "building consensus" is the way forward. He said Indigenous groups in B.C. dismantled a rail blockade in New Hazelton, B.C. after Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and her B.C. counterpart agreed to meet with Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. An Indigenous blockade in Manitoba also ended Thursday.
Scheer said the activists don't care about the livelihoods of Indigenous peoples in northern B.C. and argued the Coastal GasLink project will bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in support payments to First Nations communities.
He said the protesters are intent on shutting down the entire energy sector and accused Trudeau of letting them "run roughshod over the rule of law."
"These protesters, these activists may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege and let people whose jobs depend on the railway system, small businesses and farmers, do their jobs," Scheer said.