Last Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau abruptly reversed himself and demanded that the blockades of rail lines, which have sprung up in various places this month, be cleared. Monday, police in Ontario cleared out one of the larger protest camps, arresting 10 people and clearing the way for trains to resume service. But the protesters weren’t done. Later that night they began throwing burning tires onto the tracks:
This was the scene Monday night on the rail lines near Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Police arrested 10 people earlier in the day and cleared out the camp that was set up Feb. 6. Protest erupted across the country last night in reaction to that raid. Stay tuned to @APTNNews pic.twitter.com/DcZ3mxLkrp
— APTN News (@APTNNews) February 25, 2020
Tuesday protesters were standing on the rails (at night no less) and chanting in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs who’ve been trying to block construction of a new natural gas pipeline.
— momtifa (@shiripasternak) February 26, 2020
As you can see, police aren’t removing the protesters from the tracks. They almost appear to be standing guard.
Last night at the Toronto rail blockade. Indigenous women on the rails lead the singing, while others sing back from behind a row of dozens of police.
— Rana Nazzal رنا نزال (@rananazzalh) February 26, 2020
Some protesters also set fires on the tracks or near moving trains:
Televised images, meanwhile, showed defiant Mohawk members throwing burning tires near their dismantled protest camp in Tyendinaga, Ontario.
A few kilometers away, others poured gasoline on train tracks, and threw rocks, wooden planks and debris at passing trains.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau called these acts “extremely reckless.”
“Lighting a fire under a moving train,” he said, is especially dangerous if trains are transporting flammable materials. “It could have ignited.”
There’s no audio with this clip but you can see some of the protesters setting fires on the tracks. Police come up with fire extinguishers and put the fires out but don’t remove the protesters:
#BREAKING: Protesters at rail blockade near Hamilton that disrupted Go Transit service between Aldershot and Niagara Falls leave site, officials move in to extinguish fires. https://t.co/VJfodIOIRw pic.twitter.com/QmhRQpZ3Wv
— 680 NEWS Toronto (@680NEWS) February 25, 2020
You can see another fire being set in this clip while police watch from an overpass:
Intense standoff at #Tyendinaga , Mohawk Territory, #Ontario, fires set on the tracks. Protestors on the left, RCMP on the right, as a 2nd train goes through. #Canada | 📺 cbc radiopic.twitter.com/zZNYgntCdG
— ToryNow (@torynowdotcom) February 26, 2020
Here’s the same incident from an angle on the ground:
Some protesters were also playing chicken with the trains and throwing rocks:
Wednesday, Justin Trudeau gave a brief statement calling the fires “extremely concerning.”
Meanwhile, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture held a press conference this week to warn that the rail blockades were “grinding our entire industry to a halt.”
Finally, it has to be pointed out that the main reason the government and the police haven’t been more aggressive in dealing with the blockades is that the protesters are indigenous people. This is a very sensitive issue in Canada and one Justin Trudeau has to be especially careful about.
Remember the big scandal last year when Trudeau was accused of asking for political favors on behalf of a large engineering firm called SNC-Lavalin. The woman who broke that scandal open was Trudeau’s then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould. She testified about the pressure campaign she endured to offer a non-prosecution agreement to the company. Wilson-Raybould was eventually demoted from her job as AG and later resigned. Wilson-Raybould was the first indigenous person to serve as AG and Trudeau’s shoddy treatment of her (for telling the truth it turned out) didn’t look too good at the time. All that to say, there are both historical and relatively recent political reasons why Trudeau has been taking a kid gloves approach to this crisis.
But as this report from Global News points out, not all of the groups that have participated in these protests are indigenous people. In fact, some of the organizers aren’t even Canadian:
— Jordan Armstrong (@jarmstrongbc) February 27, 2020