OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer blasted “radical activists” Friday for joining “illegal” railway blockades in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting against a major pipeline project in northern British Columbia.
“These protesters, these activists may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade but they need to check their privilege,” Scheer told reporters in Ottawa. “They need to check their privilege and let people whose job depends on the railway system, small business, farmers, do their jobs.”
Many of the “radical activists” have “no connection to the Wet’suwet’en people,” he said.
The outgoing Conservative leader accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of neglecting his duties at home at a time when protests have disrupted railway and port traffic. The prime minister wrapped a trip through African countries this week to boost Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Prominent Mi’kmaw lawyer Pam Palmater was quick to point out the irony in the Conservative leader’s comments in a statement to CTV News.
Scheer urged Trudeau to order Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to direct the RCMP to end the blockades that have halted railway and port traffic. As public safety minister, Blair has “ultimate authority” over federal police and has authority to direct RCMP to “enforce the law,” he said.
The federal government would be setting a “dangerous precedent” to allow the blockades to have a “devastating impact” on the economy, he continued. “These blockades are illegal. So far the prime minister has refused to come out and call them that himself.”
The blockades started last week after the RCMP enforced a court injunction against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters blocking construction of a segment of the Coastal GasLink natural-gas pipeline.
The route is central to a massive $40-billion liquefied natural gas project that was approved in 2018.
Coastal GasLink has referenced benefit agreements signed with 20 elected First Nations band councils along the proposed route as an indication of Indigenous support for the project. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have reasserted that the pipeline cannot be built through their ancestral territory, beyond the boundaries of the reserve lands recognized under the Indian Act, without their consent.
Blockades have been organized across the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. In the past week, demonstrators have blocked traffic in downtown intersections of cities, including Ottawa and Vancouver. Groups of people have also planted themselves inside and outside government buildings across the country, blocking all doors.
In eastern Ontario, a blockade along train tracks in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont. ground rail traffic to a stop between Toronto and Montreal, affecting the flow of commerce through parts of the country. Canadian National Rail confirmed Friday that a blockade that affected train traffic in and out of the Port of Prince Rupert has been lifted.
Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Munich, said he has no plans to ask the RCMP to intervene and remove the blockades that prompted Via Rail and CN Rail to announce a halt in service to sections of their network Thursday.
“We are not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” he said.
Asked if the widespread rallies in solidarity Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have brought any question to whether or not the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline project will be built, the prime minister sidestepped the question by saying, “We are a country of the rule of law.”
The prime minister, who is in the German city to attend a global security conference, suggested a “broad range of opinions and preoccupations” is inherent to the discussion around major energy projects.
When pressed again to answer the question of whether the pipeline should be built, Trudeau spoke vaguely about reconciliation and community involvement in the permitting process behind major energy projects.
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Canada is “a country of legal processes and regulatory structures that are important to getting things done and moving forward,” he said.
With files from The Canadian Press