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Protests Continue Across Canada in Solidarity With Wet'suwet'en Land Defenders Fighting Fracked Gas Pipeline

Demonstrations over the past week have halted traffic in downtown Vancouver and shut down railways throughout the country.

UBCIC leaders at the BC legislature

Demonstrators gathered outside the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in Victoria on Feb. 11 as John Horgan, the province's premier, delivered a throne speech. (Photo: UBCIC/Twitter)

Protests across Canada continued Wednesday in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en First Nation hereditary chiefs and land defenders fighting against a fracked gas pipeline that would cut through their unceded territory in northern British Columbia.

For more than a year, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raids on camps established by Indigenous people to protest construction of TC Energy's Coastal GasLink pipeline have garnered global headlines and inspired solidarity actions around the world.

Such demonstrations in Canada have ramped up over the past week since police launched a violent pre-dawn raid targeting land defenders last Thursday.

The RCMP raids have come in response to injunctions against Wet'suwet'en blockades granted by Canadian courts. In recent days, Indigenous protesters and their allies have gathered at government buildings and Coastal GasLink offices and shut down ports, railways, streets, and Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge to support Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who say that the pipeline company is trespassing on their land.

"We've been resisting for 500 years and we'll be resisting for 500 more if that's what it takes to earn the respect and have a real nation-to-nation relationship," Cricket Guest, an Anishinaabekwe Métis who demonstrated with Indigenous youth and climate change activists in Toronto Tuesday, told The Toronto Star.

Guest called the traffic and shipping disruptions in multiple provinces "absolutely necessary" to draw attention to how the Canadian police and government have treated the Wet'suwet'en land defenders, declaring that "reconciliation is dead and we will shut down Canada until Canada pays attention and listens to and meets our demands."

Demonstrators' demands, according to the Star, "include implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the federal level, suspending the court injunction against blockades of the Coastal GasLink, and calling on the RCMP in the region to stand down."

CBC News reported on the railway blockades early Thursday:

Anti-pipeline protesters who are demonstrating around the rail lines near Belleville, Ont., and New Hazelton, B.C., have prompted CN Rail to temporarily shut down parts of its network, the railway said in a statement Tuesday. There is currently no movement of any trains—freight or passenger—at both those locations, crippling the ability to move goods and facilitate trade.

Via Rail said Wednesday it has cancelled its Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes until Friday. The passenger rail service said that 256 trains had been cancelled, impacting 42,100 passengers.

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Since last week, the Mohawks of Tyendinaga have been protesting in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who oppose of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. The demonstrators are not blocking the railways but are too close to the tracks for the trains to pass, rail officials say.

Pauline Maracle, who has been coordinating meals for those participating in the Tyendinaga Mohawk demonstration, told CBC earlier in this week that "this particular movement going across the nation... is so very important for the next generation." As she put it: "At the end of the day, it's the people for the people."

According to CBC:

Tyendinaga Mohawk activists have said they won't end their demonstration until the RCMP leaves the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en, where there have been numerous arrests of demonstrators who have been blocking an access road to the natural gas pipeline construction site.

While visiting Senegal Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the protests that have impacted his country's railways during a news conference, saying, "This is an issue that is of concern."

"Obviously it's extremely important to respect the right to freely demonstrate peacefully, but we need to make sure the laws are respected. That's why I'm going to be engaging with our ministers and looking at what possible next steps there are," said Trudeau. "I am encouraging all parties to dialogue, to resolve this as quickly as possible."

Noting that Trudeau is currently in West Africa rather than Canada, Richard Brooks, a campaigner with the environmental advocacy group 350.org, called the Liberal prime minister's remarks "tonedeaf and dismissive."

In a pair of tweets Wednesday, the New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh urged Trudeau to end his trip. "It's heartbreaking to see land defenders and Indigenous matriarchs dragged off their land," said Singh. "If [Trudeau] wants Canadians to believe him when he says nation-to-nation relationships are the most important, he needs to come back to Canada and back up his words with action."

"After centuries of colonialism, the way forward is not easy, but refusing to talk and pretending the federal government has no role is a failure of leadership," the NDP leader continued. "Across the country, the situation is escalating. [Trudeau] must return to Canada and meet with the chiefs."

The NDP, the party of B.C. Premier John Horgan, has also received its share criticism during the drawn out battle against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The B.C. legislature resumed Tuesday with a throne speech from Horgan—which, as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) noted in a statement, was delivered amid "exuberant sounds of a Wet'suwet'en solidarity rally protesting outside."

Horgan's speech, said UBCIC president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, "cannot erase or conceal the province's deplorable treatment of the Wet'suwet'en chiefs and land defenders who have had their right to free, prior, and informed consent violated."

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the UBCIC, said Wednesday that "the throne speech and the provincial government's agenda should not have prioritized a pipeline over the integrity, dignity, and well-being of Indigenous peoples. B.C. cannot shirk its commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in its pursuit of money and economic power."

"We were proud to stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en on the footsteps of legislature yesterday with youth, Elders, and supporters to hold this government accountable," added Wilson. "As an organization and as Indigenous leadership, we are always moving ahead and we sincerely hope that the Horgan government is able to listen to the rising chorus of voices demanding change."

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