TORONTO – Canada’s national railroad company announced on Thursday the closure of all its routes in the eastern part of the country due to protests by indigenous groups, suspending passenger and freight service in half of the country.
Jean-Jacques Ruest, president of the Canadian National Railway, explained in a statement that the closure was decided after more than 400 train trips had been canceled the past week and protests had emerged in strategic locations in eastern Canada. He said this was the most responsible course of action for employees and protesters’ safety.
The closure of the lines, which operates rail freight in Canada, also means the suspension of all services of Via Rail, the country’s passenger transport company, east of Toronto.
“Following an advisory from the infrastructure owner that they are unable to support our operations across their network, VIA Rail has no other option but to cancel its services, effective immediately and until further notice.” the railway company said in its Twitter account.
Via Rail had previously canceled passenger services between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, the country’s main passenger corridor, over indigenous protests that have gone on for a week.
The main transport sector union in Canada, Teamsters Canada, said in a statement that the suspension of the CN rail service could lead to the temporary dismissal of 6,000 railway employees.
The announcement by CN and Via Rail adds more pressure on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to intervene in the growing crisis, which could cause serious losses to Canada’s economy.
Although the protests are under the jurisdiction of provincial governments, Ontario and British Columbia authorities, the most affected by the blockades, have refused to intervene and have decided to resort to the federal authorities to resolve the conflict.
The blockades began a week ago when the Canadian Mounted Police began arresting indigenous activists protesting in British Columbia, on the country’s Pacific Coast, against the construction of a gas pipeline.
The heirs of the Wet’suwet’en Indians of British Columbia oppose, with the support of environmental groups in the country, the project on native land belonging to the Coastal GasLink gas pipeline. Construction of the 670-kilometer pipeline is costing 6 billion Canadian dollars ($4 billion).
For weeks, the Wet’suwet’en and their supporters have been blocking workers’ access to the construction site. Courts last week authorized police to detain protesters involved in the blockade.
After the first arrests, indigenous groups across the country began protests in solidarity with the indigenous group in British Columbia.
In Ontario, Mohawk Indians blocked the railroad in Belleville town, about 200 miles east of Toronto, which has now led to the suspension of all rail traffic in eastern Canada.
Meanwhile, the federal government has indicated it is willing to meet with indigenous groups but that they must first put an end to the blockades.