Feds hope to meet Wet'suwet'en chiefs, negotiate blockade end

De-escalating impasse

Traditional chiefs from British Columbia at the heart of the Coastal GasLink pipeline protest are now in eastern Ontario, where federal cabinet ministers hope their proximity to the capital might mean a chance to sit down and talk about de-escalating the current impasse.

Blockades raised by Indigenous people and other supporters of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation's hereditary leaders have stopped rail traffic in eastern Canada and temporarily blocked roads, bridges and ports across the country.

The Wet'suwet'en's hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeline that would bring natural gas to a liquefaction facility and export terminal on the B.C. coast. But others in the community do support the project, including 20 First Nations bands along the route that have signed agreements with Coastal GasLink.

On Thursday, RCMP in B.C. sent a letter to the hereditary chiefs saying the force intends to move its officers out of the territory and station them instead in the nearby town of Houston.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he believes this move meets conditions set by the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who have been calling for the RCMP to leave.

"I believe the time has come now for the barricades to come down," Blair said.

"We have met the condition that those who are on the barricades had said was important to them before they would change their posture, and that work has been done, and I think quite appropriately."

Countrywide protests and blockades followed a move by the RCMP to enforce a court injunction earlier this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to a Coastal GasLink work site. Twenty-eight people were arrested, including one hereditary chief.

The chiefs have demanded the RCMP leave their traditional land and have refused to meet with federal or provincial officials until this was done.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under increasing pressure to end the blockades, with Conservatives calling for the government to use force, while the Liberal government insists negotiations are the only way to a lasting solution.

Blair said the decision to move officers away from their outpost on the traditional Wet'suwet'en territory was a decision made by the RCMP in B.C., not by politicians, although he was quick to say he believes it was the right move.

"It's moving towards a less confrontational and a more peaceable arrangement entirely appropriate to the circumstances, and I'm very hopeful that will satisfy the concerns that were raised," he said.

Trudeau spoke with premiers Thursday in a call with the Council of the Federation to discuss the disruptions to infrastructure caused by the blockades and how they are affecting farmers, businesses, families, and workers.

The Prime Minister's Office said Trudeau highlighted that the government is looking at options to end the blockades as quickly as possible and reaching a peaceful and lasting resolution that builds trust and respect among all parties involved.

It said the federal government is working closely with the B.C. government and will continue working closely with all the premiers.

"Prime Minister Trudeau noted the RCMP's offer to withdraw its operations from Wet’suwet’en territory, and the ongoing offer made by Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to address both urgent and longer term issues, following the Prime Minister’s letter to them," the readout of the call says.

Four Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have travelled east and are expected to meet with members of the Mohawk Nation in Quebec and Ontario to thank them for supporting their cause with their solidarity protests. Mohawks at Tyendinaga, between Toronto and Montreal, have blocked a critical rail line, cutting both freight and passenger traffic with coast-to-coast ramifications.

A gathering is being held Friday at Tyendinaga, where the Wet'suwet'en chiefs are to be welcomed and "political issues" discussed.

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