Rail traffic in and out of Prince Rupert has ground to a halt today as a group called the Gitxsan Warriors blocked the CN line in Kitwanga.
The blockade went up at 10 a.m this morning and was scheduled to run until six p.m. this evening. The blockade was erected the same day as countless rallies and protests took place across the country, and Gitxsan Warriors spokesperson Fred Johnson said it was done to show solidarity with other First Nations in opposition to Bill C45.
“Indigenous peoples of Canada have inspired a movement that has gone global. The Idle No More movement focuses on Treaty and Non-Treaty experiences with injustices as in the recent Omnibus Bill passed by the majority Conservative government of Canada” he said in a statement from the group.
And, said Johnson, the group will escalate their actions in the future unless progress is made in the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the provincial and federal governments.
“As long as meaningful negotiations are not engaged in between the parties the members of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations will keep on pressing the issue with the governments of Canada and British Columbia,” said Johnson in the statement.
As a result of the blockade, CN stopped all trains in the area that would have carried coal, grain or containers in or out of the port of Prince Rupert.
“This is an illegal blockade and we have received a court injunction. It has not been served yet, but we’re hoping the protesters will leave peacefully… We have been in discussion with the First Nations and the local RCMP throughout the day, and if they leave before the injunction is served that would be better,” said CN spokesperson Jim Feeny, noting that shipments to Prince Rupert will not immediately resume.
“Service will only resume once we have access to the site and are able to do the proper inspections and ensure we can continue in a safe manner… We have to be completely ensured that the integrity and safety of the track before we will let a train pass.”
Feeny said the company would not quantify how much traffic or cargo was impacted by the blockade.
Michael Gurney of the Prince Rupert Port Authority said port operations have been largely unaffected by the blocking of the line and Michelle Bryant of Ridley Terminals Inc. said it was business as usual at the coal terminal.
VIA Rail passengers were forced to turnaround and offload in Terrace. The train’s locomotive engineer Lester Leer said he’s experienced blockades of this sort in his career, even one years ago in Kitwanga.
“It was looking good,” he said of today’s trip, noting that he initially thought it would be stop and go – meaning that the blockade would let passenger trains through at points throughout the day.
“Then here we are back in Terrace.”
Nine passengers got off the train at the George Little House Via station in mid-afternoon while bus service was organized. Some passengers were noticeably irritated at the change in travel plans that left them nearly four hours behind schedule.
“We paid good money to take the train,” said first-time train passenger Don Hawn, who is from a suburb of Edmonton.
“But it’s not the train’s fault.”
~ With files from the Terrace Standard