Representatives of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are making their way east to thank the Mohawks for their solidarity, according to Hereditary Chief Na’Moks of the Tsayu (Beaver) clan.
“They will be meeting with the chair and co-chairs of the Mohawk Nation,” said Na’Moks. “To thank them for standing with us and let them know that we don’t plan on meeting with any form of government until both the RCMP and the proposed pipeline are off the territory.
“There’s not much sense in talking to somebody if you’re under duress.”
Na’Moks, also known as John Ridsdale, said the representatives will visit “a few places” to show gratitude.
He wouldn’t confirm an itinerary.
Na’Moks spoke to APTN News on Wednesday, a day after federal politicians on Parliament Hill spent most of Tuesday debating what to do about rail stoppages impacting Canada’s economy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for “patience” and continued dialogue.
Andrew Scheer blasted Trudeau’s speech as “the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history.”
Trudeau responded by excluding Scheer from a briefing on the situation he held with other opposition leaders.
He said Scheer “disqualified” himself with his comments. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said Scheer’s statement “was so divisive that it rises to the level of racism.”
The disputing continued into the evening in the form of an emergency debate.
Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said the federal government is prepared to meet with Na’Moks and other hereditary chiefs. But the federal government cannot instruct police in operational matters, Bennett added.
RCMP acknowledged receiving the demands, but would not provide more information.
“The RCMP is aware of the request to withdraw from the C-ISO and discussions are underway with respect to possible next steps. Any options will have to be discussed with all stakeholders and out of respect for those discussions, we have nothing to publicly share at this time,” said Sgt. Janelle Shoihet in an email.
Na’Moks rejected that position.
“You got the province of British Columbia and you got the federal government of Canada. Between the two of them they can’t tell the police to leave the territory? They can’t tell, basically, a company to leave? Who’s steering this anyway?”
He said the chiefs are declining to meet with representatives of federal and provincial governments because they have two demands which aren’t being met: order the RCMP to withdraw and demand the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline company abide by the eviction notice the hereditary chiefs issued in January.
“Two very simple things. Get the police off the territory and CGL out. Then we’ll talk. We’ll never ever have a discussion while we’re under duress. You can’t have free talks with guns pointed at you.”
Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller remained positive about a potential solution to the conflict.
“Clearly we see there is a path forward, we see there is modest and positive progress,” he said.
Miller told reporters on Wednesday that this is a “pivotal” moment in Canadian history.
We need to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror, particularly as regards our relation with Indigenous peoples. There is no question that the economy is hurting and Canadians are hurting. There are layoffs and then perhaps even more to come if action is not taken in short order,” said Miller.
Via Rail announced it will proceed with 1,000 “temporary employee suspensions.”
“This general interruption is an unprecedented situation in our history. In 42 years of existence, it is the first time that VIA Rail, a public intercity passenger rail service, has to interrupt most of its services across the country,” said President and CEO Cynthia Garneau in a press release.
“At this point, we believe we have made the fairest and most reasonable decision with the proposed temporary suspension plan.”
APTN responded by email asking if these are temporary suspensions that will be reinstated once services resume or whether employees will be suspended for longer to mitigate impacts on the company’s bottom line.
A company spokesperson did not respond by the time this article was published.
Transport Action Canada, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Ottawa, issued a statement criticizing CN and Via.
The organization said “mandating complete suspension of VIA Rail services on lines without any blockades” was not “operationally necessary.”
“This looks rather a like a hockey ‘dive’ by CN, using VIA Rail and passengers as leverage to put pressure on Ottawa and the Ontario Provincial Police to take hasty and possibly ill-considered action,” the organization claimed.
Via said it “had no other option” but to halt services once CN served notice it was shutting down operations in eastern Canada.
APTN reached out to CN for comment. The company replied that travelers could potentially get stuck in transit.
“It is unsafe to allow passenger trains to start trips across our network when we have no control over where, when, or how an illegal blockade may occur,” said spokesperson Olivier Quenneville.
“It would be irresponsible to allow the travelling public to be stranded in a blockade.”
– with files from Brett Forester and the Canadian Press