In Canada, rail lines shut down because of protests against pipeline construction

Protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline in western Canada have been escalating for several weeks. Now the company which operates passengers and freight traffic on Canada’s rail system says travel is being disrupted for tens of thousands of people:

Via Rail, the crown corporation that operates much of Canada’s commuter rail service, announced on Wednesday that trains on the Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa routes would be halted until at least Friday. More than 150 passenger trains have been cancelled since the blockade began, forcing an estimated 24,000 people to find alternate travel routes.

Canadian National Railway, which owns the tracks, warned it “will be forced to shut down significant parts” of its vast Canadian network, which moves oil, grain and forestry products to markets in Asia and the United States, unless a resolution is reached.

The rail protest looks like it only consists of a handful of people. Here’s a report from Monday:

A local police chief pleaded with the protesters to stop on behalf of regular people who are losing their jobs:

The week-long rail protester is an act of solidarity with the main protest against a pipeline which crosses the territory of an indigenous group called the Wet’suwet’en. The company building the 400 mile gas pipeline has spent years getting approval from Wet’suwet’en elected leaders but the group’s hereditary chiefs deny that they ever ceded any land to the federal government and have set up a checkpoint to prevent construction workers from getting to the pipeline construction site.

Last December a court ruled that the protesters had to allow construction worker access to the site or face removal by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The protesters refused to back down and earlier this week the police arrived in force:

Indigenous protesters in Canada have called a growing police presence near their makeshift checkpoint “an act of war”, as tensions mount over a stalled pipeline project in northern British Columbia.

In defiance of a court order, dozens of protesters have gathered on a logging road nearly 700km (430 miles) north-west of Vancouver, to block the construction of a natural gas pipeline.

“We want them right off Wet’suwet’en territory,” Chief Madeek, a hereditary leader, told reporters at the gates of the checkpoint, where temperatures have dipped to -15C (5F).

There were a handful of arrests:

Removing the RCMP from the protest area has become a new rallying point for protesters:

The protesters also blocked the entrance to the British Columbia legislature, attempting to prevent legislators from entering:

The Vancouver Sun published an unsympathetic opinion piece on the situation:

The angry mob that surrounded the B.C. legislature on Tuesday had a plan to “shut down the government” as a way to show their displeasure with the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

They did not succeed, although they did manage to rough a few people up, spit on at least one legislature staffer, temporarily block the media from doing their jobs, and generally annoy and inconvenience everyone they confronted…

As I watched the protesters verbally abuse people just trying to go to work on Monday, I wondered whether any of them would have the guts to do the same thing to impoverished Indigenous people seeking a way out of poverty.

The 20 First Nations backing the pipeline represent 13,000 Indigenous British Columbians, many of them working on the project.

He makes an important point. The protesters represent a fringe. Many of the Wet’suwet’en people do not support the protests:

The real goal of the protesters, as always, is to “keep it in the ground.” But as the company building the pipeline points out, much of this natural gas flowing through the pipeline is headed to markets in Asia “that are currently powered by coal-fired electricity – a significant source of greenhouse gases.” Obviously the protesters don’t want to hear it. The want to put a stop to gas production even if the result is more coal being burned elsewhere.