RCMP removes officers from Wet’suwet’en land in hopes of satisfying rail blockaders

RCMP removes officers from Wet’suwet’en land in hopes of satisfying rail blockaders

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) agreed to one of the demands made by protesters who have shut down much of Canada’s rail system for the past two weeks. The RCMP is willing to pull back from indigenous land in the hopes that protesters elsewhere in the country will end the rail blockade:

On Thursday, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair announced that RCMP will be offering to leave unceded lands in northern British Columbia, trying to meet the conditions of those holding rail protests that have appeared across the country for two weeks.

It was RCMP’s initial occupation of Wet’suwet’en land — following an injunction granted by the B.C. Supreme Court allowing them to move onto the property to make way for the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction — that launched the series of protest blockades.

Representatives of the Wet’suwet’en are flying in to speak with the Mohawk rail blockaders tomorrow morning, though it’s not clear what they intend to say:

Now, a meeting with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs is meant to take place Friday morning at 10 a.m. at the Mohawk community centre on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Media will not be allowed to attend, but all Mohawk are invited, according to a news release published to Real Peoples Media.

“The gathering is being held to welcome the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and to discuss related political issues,” the release said. “This is a gathering to celebrate friendship, healing, peace and optimism. Disrupters and provocateurs will be removed from the meeting.”

Although it’s unclear exactly what the meeting will discuss, it is safe to assume the news of RCMP leaving Wet’suwet’en land in B.C. will colour those discussion.

If all of this sounds a bit confusing it’s probably because you’ve missed the backstory. The Wet’suwet’en are an indigenous group in Candada who have been defying a court order and refusing to allow construction workers access to the site where a natural gas pipeline is being built. Specifically, a group of activists set up roadblocks on the road that leads to the construction area and have refused to allow the workers to pass. The RCMP responded by entering the Wet’suwet’en land, clearing the roadblocks and arresting a handful of protesters. That’s what set off the rail blockades which were meant to show solidarity with the road blockades.

As of yesterday, more than 1,400 rail workers have been laid off and business leaders are warning that if the rail blockades continue the effect on the Canadian economy could be severe. Perhaps we’ll see an end to this tomorrow when the two indigenous groups meet, but I’m not convinced it will be that simple.

Some of the people blockadiing the rail lines have also demanded that the construction workers also stay out of Wet’suwet’en land. But that’s not the plan according to the what Bill Blair said today. He said the RCMP had agreed to station its officers in a nearby town rather than in a shack along the road where the roadblocks had been set up. However, he made clear that the RCMP expects the now cleared roadway leading to the construction site to remain open. In other words, if the Wet’suwet’en attempt to set up more blockades to keep construction workers out, the RCMP will return, albeit from a slightly greater distance. So it sounds to me like the rail blockaders will need to accept that they’ve lost this battle over the pipeline at least for now and it’s not clear they are prepared to do that.

Here’s Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair describing the RCMP decision to pull back:

Finally, here’s a report showing some of the pressure indigenous chiefs are feeling not to compromise. The latter half of this report focuses on the economic consequences of the blockade.

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