A blockade of the huge CP Rail Coquitlam rail yard that began Thursday is threatening major problems for the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest, and has shut down West Coast Express commuter trains.
About 25 protesters under the name Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism gathered to block rail traffic through the yard, which handles rail traffic to the port, said a spokeswoman, Isabel Krupp. She said they were acting in support of hereditary chiefs opposed to the routing of the Coastal GasLinks pipeline in northwestern B.C.
“We’re going to hold the blockade until the RCMP is out of the Wet’suwet’en (territory), or we’re forced to move along,” said Krupp. “We have supplies and we have reinforcements coming.”
The action came just as Gitxsan supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs said they would lift, at least temporarily, a blockade of CN Rail’s main line near New Hazelton, which serves the Port of Prince Rupert.
Krupp said the group is attempting to repeat the impact of the New Hazelton blockade and actions in Manitoba and Ontario in hitting the economy.
“It’s not a protest, it’s land defence,” Krupp said. She said the intent is to stop the flow of what she characterized as “stolen commodities across stolen land to push the hand of officials and the RCMP to stand down and stop the raid in Wet’suwet’en.”
The Port of Vancouver handles more than $500 million worth of imports and exports every days.
Port of Vancouver spokeswoman Danielle Jang said the CN Rail disruptions had not yet impacted traffic at Metro Vancouver terminals. However, that was before the rail blockade in Coquitlam.
TransLink cancelled all West Coast Express trains from downtown Vancouver on Thursday evening.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he talked at length with Premier John Horgan on Thursday about “the desire to work together closely toward a resolution as soon as possible,” according to a statement posted to the Prime Minister’s website.
“Both governments shared a commitment to meeting with Gitxsawn Simgyget, Wet’suwet’en Dini Ze and Ts’ake ze to engage in continuing dialogue,” the statement reads.
According to the statement, the Trudeau and Horgan discussed the importance of freedom of expression as a democratic right, but actions “must respect the courts and act within the law.”
Gitxsan hereditary chief Norm Stephens said the New Hazelton blockade would be dismantled during talks between Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders in meetings requested by B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
But he said it would go back up if government did not cancel construction permits for the pipeline.
The Port of Prince Rupert did not respond to requests for an interview but in an unattributed emailed statement said that with the New Hazelton blockade being dismantled, it expects “(the port) will resume operations as soon as possible.”
The statement said rail interruptions “severely impacts operations” at the port, which supports 3,600 direct and 2,600 indirect jobs and handles $50 billion a year of Canadian trade.
Tuesday, CN Rail CEO J.J. Ruest said the New Hazelton blockade had “effectively already shut down” the Port of Prince Rupert and by Thursday, the railway started an orderly shutdown of its Eastern Canadian operations because of a continuing blockade near Bellville, Ont.
“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protesters,” Ruest said in a news release.
With files from Canadian Press and Scott Brown