Blockades remain in place as Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs returning to B.C. - InfoNews

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Blockades remain in place as Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs returning to B.C.

A protester looks through a pair of binoculars from the closed train tracks in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., on Sunday Feb.23, 2020. The rail blockade is in support of the Wet'suwet'en who oppose work on a pipeline in northern B.C.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
February 23, 2020 - 2:00 PM

Hereditary chiefs from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation were expected to return to British Columbia on Sunday after visiting Mohawk communities in Eastern Canada, with no signs that blockades crippling the country's rail network will come down.

The actions, particularly one on a critical east-west rail line near Belleville, Ont., are in support of hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline despite support from elected band councils along the route of the project in northern B.C.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that while the government is ready to talk, blockades that began two weeks ago must come down and that the situation is "unacceptable and untenable."

Hereditary chiefs have said they are ready for discussions with the B.C. and federal governments after the RCMP and Coastal Gas Link leave their traditional territory.

Heredity Chief Na'moks, also known as John Ridsdale, said Sunday that talks were progressing with the Mohawks to take down blockades until Trudeau made his "antagonistic" and "misinformed" speech.

"If the prime minister had not made that speech the Mohawks would have taken down everything," he said Sunday. "They were ready. We were on the phone."

Na'moks said all five hereditary chiefs are expected to meet in northern B.C. on Monday to plan their next steps and talks with the RCMP could resume on Thursday at the earliest.

He said the chiefs will not budge from their demands for the Mounties to remove every component of a mobile unit from the 29-kilometre mark from Highway 16 before meeting with them.

"The local constabulary can look after the patrols," Na'moks said of a detachment in nearby Houston. "The officers that they fly in and out on a seven-day basis is what we want gone from the territory."

The RCMP was not immediately available for comment.

The hereditary chiefs visited supporters this week in Tyendinaga and Kahnawake south of Montreal, and repeated that their conditions for talks to begin have not been met.

Last Thursday, the RCMP in B.C. sent a letter to the traditional leaders of the Wet'suwet'en Nation, saying the force intends to move its officers off the access road and station them instead in the nearby town of Houston.

Woos, of the Grizzly House, told reporters in Kahnawake on Saturday that attempts to reach out to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller have not been returned since Trudeau's announcement on Friday.

"It seems to me like ever since Mr. Trudeau has made his announcement, the communication has ceased," Woos said.

But senior cabinet ministers said Sunday the federal government remained ready to talk.

Speaking Sunday on Global's news and political affairs series "The West Block," the minister for Crown-Indigenous relations styled conversations as productive and that all sides were making good progress.

Carolyn Bennett said that "at no time have we stopped negotiations."

She added later in the interview that "keeping the conversation open" along with the removal of the RCMP from the Wet'suwet'en territory are "really important criteria to getting us through this difficult patch and on to a good path."

She said there are differing opinions within the Wet'suwet'en Nation, and it is the nation itself that has to sort out the divide.

"Within the Wet'suwet'en community that there are differing opinions and matriarchs, there are people that are speaking up about their issues as well," Bennett told the program.

"The solution will be found in the Wet'suwet'en community as they come together with their vision of self-determination and how they can form a government and write their own laws."

On CTV's "Question Period," Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the barricades needed to come down and that the federal government is committed to dialogue. He urged the hereditary chiefs to come back to the table.

"We all understand the importance of a peaceful resolution, but a speedy resolution, because the impact of these barricades is unacceptable, untenable," Blair said.

"It can't be maintained because of the harm that it is causing and so we have confidence in the police to do the job peaceably."

He said that it was the responsibility of the police in each jurisdiction to deal with the blockades and was cool to the idea of the federal government sending in the military to forcibly remove demonstrators.

"I don't believe personally that it's ever appropriate to put armed services up against Canadians in any part of Canada," Blair told the program.

"The armed services perform an essential role to this country, but the police also perform an essential role."

Some barricades have come down, including one in St-Lambert, Que., late Friday, which will allow the St-Hilaire commuter train line to resume service on Monday, according to Exo, the company that oversees commuter rail service in the Montreal area.

Via Rail service has said it is set to resume certain routes, including its Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa route, on Monday.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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