EDMONTON — A blockade set up on a Canadian National rail line on the western edge of Edmonton in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs was being dismantled — at least temporarily — Wednesday after a handful of counter-protesters showed up.
About 20 people called Cuzzins for Wet’suwet’en had set up barriers early in the day in solidarity with the chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline through their traditional land in British Columbia.
The blockade consisted of wooden pallets on the tracks and signs that say “No Consent” and “No Pipelines on Stolen Land.”
One of the organizers, who was wearing a balaclava and called himself Poundmaker to protect his safety, said they had planned to maintain the blockade until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau intervened and the RCMP left Wet’suwet’en territory in B.C.
Confrontations with counter-protesters at the site, however, led Poundmaker and the others to abandon the blockade. They said they wanted to keep it peaceful.
Poundmaker didn’t rule out erecting a blockade again at the site or somewhere else. “Site 1 wasn’t the only site we had in mind.”
Wet’suwet’en supporters linked arms in front their camp as a few counter-protesters tried to remove pallets and other materials from the tracks.
“This is the violence. See this is the violence,” said a protester, who had his face covered.
“This is not violence. I am just trying to remove some garbage,” a counter-protester responded.
Guy Simpson, an oilfield worker from Leduc, Alta., said he decided to show up at the blockade after seeing it on social media.
“One blockade at a time. I’ll clean it up,” he said after loading some items from the camp onto his pickup truck.
Poundmaker said he knows people are upset that the blockades across the country are affecting the economy and jobs.
“I know they think we’re coming after oil and gas,” he said. “But we’re focused on justice for Indigenous people right now. We’re focused on trying to build a future for everyone.”
CN said in a statement earlier Wednesday that CN police and local police had responded to the blockade.
Later in the day, an Edmonton judge granted the company a 30-day injunction applying to all rail lines in Alberta. CN lawyers had argued that the company has nothing to do with the dispute and is being hurt economically by the blockades.
Lawyers said a train was bearing down on the blockade at about 4:30 a.m. when CN received an anonymous phone tip about the protest on the tracks. The train stopped 20 cars short of the blockade.
They said the blockade had held up 14 trains by lunchtime, backing up traffic and threatening perishable and hazardous goods.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said he expects police to enforce the order on any other blockades.
“Albertans will not be economic hostages while lawbreakers block critical infrastructure such as rail lines,” he wrote on Twiter.
Premier Jason Kenney, who has been critical of the blockades popping up across the country, said he expected police to respect and enforce court orders.
He planned to be on an afternoon conference call with all of Canada’s premiers about the blockades.
“These illegal blockades — there is people losing their jobs, blue-collar people, vulnerable people,” he said in Calgary.
“What is happening here is anarchy.”
The Coastal GasLink pipeline the hereditary chiefs oppose has already received approval from elected band councils.
Protests began after the RCMP moved in to enforce an injunction to keep hereditary chiefs and their supporters away from pipeline worksites. Blockades by Indigenous people and supporters have shut down a good part of CN’s rail network, suspended most Via Rail passenger service, and temporarily blocked traffic on streets and bridges and at ports in multiple cities.
The Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, which represents 16 First Nations across Alberta, said in a statement that it supports the hereditary chiefs.
“We call upon law enforcement officials to ensure safety of peaceful land protectors and the railway workers,” said Grand Chief William Morin.
Watch: Trudeau calls for patience, resolve to end rail blockades. Story continues below.
He urged the RCMP to leave Wet’suwet’en territory and asked that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan meet with the Wet’suwet’en “to resolve this in a peaceful manner for all Indigenous Peoples and Canadians.”
In Ottawa, Trudeau said his government is trying to find a resolution, but he also acknowledged the economic affect the rail blockades are having across the country.
“We know that people are facing shortages. They’re facing disruptions. They’re facing layoffs. That’s unacceptable,” he said.
“That’s why we’re going to continue working extremely hard with everyone involved to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”
— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary and Dean Bennett in Edmonton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020