TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is convening the Incident Response Group to address ongoing protests and rail blockades that have shut down much of the country’s rail system.
The group, which includes senior cabinet ministers, will discuss the escalating dispute over a natural gas pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C.
But experts say it will be a long road to progress as politicians and police navigate an already strained relationship with Indigenous groups.
“This is clearly recognition from Ottawa that the public wants to see something done. But the question is what exactly can they do at this point,” Laura Stone, political reporter with the Globe and Mail, said during an interview with CTV’s Your Morning Monday.
Protesters across the country have been blocking access to railway lines in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose hereditary chiefs oppose the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline project on their ancestral territory.
Over the weekend, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller visited the railway blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, near Belleville, Ont., where he said he made “modest” progress after a day-long meeting with the Mohawk Nation.
“There’s a lot more work to be done, and I have a few messages I need to go back to the prime minister with,” Miller said, adding that he would be discussing with his cabinet “what the next steps are.”
Miller reiterated those steps would not be “easy,” saying “there will be more steps to do to address some underlying issues that have characterized our relationship for longer than I’ve lived.”
Stone, who spent the weekend reporting from the Belleville blockade, noted that police are being careful with how they engage with protesters.
“What’s really interesting about the scene near Belleville is that OPP officers are really trying to engage in a dialogue with these groups but not actually going into a hostile situation,” she said.
“They’ll sit back on the road, they’ll check in with protesters twice a day to make sure everything is alright.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has criticized the Liberal government’s response, suggesting that the government should order the RCMP to put an end to the blockades.
However, Trudeau has responded to those calls noting Canada, “is not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters.”
Miller has also said that sending police in to break up blockades would only result in more disruptive protests in the future thanks to a tense relationship between police and Indigenous communities.
“Let’s realize our mistakes from the past and make sure they don’t happen again – because this problem is not going away anytime soon, and if we don’t solve it the right way [with] peaceful open dialogue, it’s going to come back again and again and again,” he said.
SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT GROWS
Support for the Wet’suwet’en Nation has now spread south of the border, with protesters blocking trains in Seattle.
“Canada off Wet’Suwet’en land,” read a sign held by protesters.
Meanwhile, over 200 people have RSVP’d to a protest planned Monday at Ottawa’s Confederation Park, according to a Facebook event page.