Canada Seeks Talks to End Rail Blockades

Travelers faced canceled train service at Toronto's Union Station on Friday.

Photo: carlos osorio/Reuters By Paul Vieira Feb.

14, 2020 5:41 pm ET

OTTAWA--The Canadian government said Friday it would pursue negotiations to end the blockades that have thwarted rail traffic across the country for more than a week, even as the country's biggest railroad petitioned for protesters to be forcibly removed. Canadian officials said talks with indigenous leaders have already started to net some results, with Transport Minister Marc Garneau saying a blockade in northern British Columbia that had been affecting activity at a port in Prince Rupert ended on Friday. The "path to resolution for this issue is through dialogue and seeking to build consensus," Mr.

Garneau told reporters in Toronto, while acknowledging protesters were breaking the law.

More talks between senior Canadian officials and indigenous leaders would take place over the coming days, Mr. Garneau said. The blockades, meant to show solidarity with indigenous leaders on the west coast who oppose the construction of a natural-gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, are continuing in Ontario and Quebec, the country's two biggest provinces. The protests are affecting business, commuters and travelers, and the country's biggest business groups say they are putting a chokehold on economic activity.

Government-owned Via Rail Canada, the passenger-rail operator, has suspended service indefinitely. Canadian National owns more than 80% of the tracks used by Via Rail to carry passengers.

Montreal-based Canadian National Railway[4] Co. on Thursday shut down its eastern Canadian network[5], saying it regretted the move but was left with no option because law-enforcement officials weren't enforcing court orders it obtained to remove protesters. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada is "not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters."

"We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are a country of the rule of law and we will ensure everything is done to resolve [this]," he said in Munich, where he was attending a global security gathering.

A spokesman for Ontario Provincial Police said officers were exercising discretion, and that "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."

Canadian's supply chain continues to feel the fallout. At the country's 17 ports, operators in some cases are turning away ships, and cargo is beginning to be rerouted to U.S. ports, said Wendy Zatylny, president of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities.

The blockades affect "Canadians on an everyday level, inhibiting access to food and other necessities that allow them to go through their days," she said.

Andrew Brant, one of the people involved in the roughly 15-person blockade in eastern Ontario, said a meeting with Canada's Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, is planned for Saturday near Belleville, about 120 miles east of Toronto. A spokeswoman for the minister couldn't immediately confirm the meeting and said she was unaware of the minister's schedule.

Protests have escalated across Canada since last week, when police began enforcing a separate court order to remove people trying to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, based in British Columbia and the source of the nationwide contention.

The pipeline, owned by TC Energy[6] Corp., is intended to carry gas to the west coast for shipment to markets in Asia.

Write to Paul Vieira at [email protected][7]

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References

  1. ^ Biography (www.wsj.com)
  2. ^ @PaulVieira (twitter.com)
  3. ^ [email protected] (www.wsj.com)
  4. ^ Canadian National Railway (quotes.wsj.com)
  5. ^ shut down its eastern Canadian network (www.wsj.com)
  6. ^ TC Energy (quotes.wsj.com)
  7. ^ [email protected] (www.wsj.com)

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