A blockade on the CN rail line near New Hazelton that forced port operations in Prince Rupert to a virtual standstill was taken down late last week … for now.
Monika Coté, Port of Prince Rupert’s manager of coprorate communications, told The Northern View on Friday that port operations were being brought back up to speed.
“The rail blockade on CN’s mainline … has been dismantled and operations at the Port of Prince Rupert are in the process of resuming,” she stated in an e-mail. “The thousands of women and men across northern British Columbia whose livelihood depend on the Prince Rupert gateway are committed to moving Canadian trade safely and efficiently through the Port of Prince Rupert, and will be working hard to restore the corridor’s full fluidity in the weeks ahead.”
The blockade prompted Michelle Boomars-MacNeill, president of the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce, to issue an appeal for a speed resolution.
“Due to the rapidly-evolving nature of blockades in northern B.C., which involve political, economic and legal factors, it would be premature to conjecture about potential impacts or future outcomes of the ongoing protests,” she stated in a press release.
“A consistent flow of cargo by ship and rail is vital to the well-being of workers in our city and beyond — in particular, the more than 6,200 Canadian workers whose jobs are related to port activity in Prince Rupert.
“We urge all parties to work toward a peaceful and mutually-respectful conclusion to this disruption.”
While freight traffic has resumed along the rail line in northern B.C., Via Rail passenger service to Prince Rupert continued early this week to be cancelled.
Marie-Anna Murat, a VIA rail spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday that some trains in Quebec, and remote Manitoba and Ontario will be running, northern B.C. routes have been cancelled.
“VIA Rail is reaching out directly to passengers with reservations that have not been cancelled to update them on the latest developments,” she said.
“We remain hopeful for an end to the situation as soon as possible and encourage all relevant parties to continue their efforts towards a peaceful resolution.”
Chief Spookwx, (Norman Stephens) of the Gitxsan Nation, said following letters he received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan, members of the Gitxsan Nation and supporters took down the blockade situated where the CN Rail line intersects with Hwy 16 near New Hazelton on Thursday evening.
When Black Press stopped by the camp on Feb. 12 Spookwx said the decision to set up camp on the tracks was not made lightly.
He added that the railroad is on Spookwx territory of the Gitxsan Nation and that recent events gave them little choice but to assert their authority over the land.
“We decided that enough is enough,” he said of the blockade which began on Feb. 8. “We put [it] up … and naturally we got an injunction against us for trespass on our own lands, which is a little much to take.”
Spookwx also expressed cynicism toward the concept of seeking consent from the appropriate decision makers in terms of land development.
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“Free prior informed consent works only if you say yes,” he said. “If you say no then it’s injunction time and enforcement time.”
The railway company previously told Black Press it has obtained court injunctions to remove both blockades and are working with RCMP to enforce the orders.
The blockade is one of dozens across the country which has had a significant impact on CN rail service across Canada.
In a news release last Tuesday, CN president J.J. Ruest said that hundreds of its freight trains had been cancelled and that the Port of Prince Rupert was “effectively already shut down.”
As for Spookwx, he feels it’s becoming more and more likely the best option for Indigenous people is one which utilizes the courts.
“Hopefully we get back to where we can sit down and plan for how we’re going to finish Delgamuukw because that would appear to be the only option for us now,” he said.
“Canada is still not listening, the Province here is certainly not going to listen.”
In a letter addressed to Spookwx Justin Trudeau said maintaining a strong relationship with Indigenous people is of the utmost importance to his government.
“In this spirit, I can confirm our government’s participation at a joint meeting with Gitxsan Simgyget and Wet’suwet’en Dini Ze’ and Ts’ake ze to engage in dialogue on how the current impasse over pipeline development arose, to discuss the current situation and to seek a process that avoids such situations in the future.”
Black Press learned that the Province will be sending federal Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett to the meeting.
Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser will be in attendance for the Province.
In an emailed statement Fraser said that he feels dialogue is the best way through the situation and that the Province welcomes the opportunity to sit down and hear the concerns of both parties.
“We are very pleased that after our letter was sent, the CN Rail blockade near New Hazelton was dismantled as a gesture of good faith,” said Fraser. “I know that we all ultimately want a peaceful resolution.”
A date for the meeting has not been set yet, and Spookwx has said if negotiations are unsuccessful it’s possible the blockade will go back up.
In an email to Black Press, Dawn Roberts with BC RCMP Communications confirmed the blockade had been taken down. She said the action was a result of discussions between all parties.
“Significant efforts took place to keep the lines of dialogue open between the Hereditary Chiefs, Elected Chiefs, the provincial and federal governments,” she said. “Ultimately a resolution was reached that saw the blockade peacefully end and all obstructions removed on Feb. 13 without the need for enforcement.”
The RCMP say they are hopeful the positive outcome can lead to further peaceful resolutions.
“That is exactly what happened here and we will continue this approach moving forward.”