Protesters blocked a Toronto rail line in frigid weather Saturday as a form of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation, opposed to the construction of a pipeline on their territory in British Columbia.
The protest was one of several organized disruptions taking place Saturday that paralyzed rail traffic in Ontario. Similar demonstrations occurred in B.C. Friday where road traffic was stopped during protests in Vancouver and Victoria.
The Toronto group marched from Dovercourt Park to the rail line between Dupont St. and Geary Ave., near Dufferin St. Holding signs — one read “Water is Life” — the protesters chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police” as curious residents came out of their homes to watch, some applauding.
The protest, organized by a coalition of organizations and watched by uniformed police officers, began shortly after 11 a.m., blocking CP rail freight traffic. Travel was also suspended for several hours on the Barrie GO line betwen Union Station and Downsview.
Protesters also blocked a rail line in Belleville, leading to the cancellation of VIA Rail service for the second day between Montreal and Toronto, and Ottawa and Toronto.
And east of Belleville, CN Railway said Saturday, crews and police responded to a protest near CN tracks between the towns of Shannonville and Desoronto. “Train movements are currently stopped and we are monitoring the situation,” said Jonathan Abecassis, CN’s senior media relations manager.
The dispute in B.C. centres around the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline through the First Nation’s traditional territory in the northwestern part of the province.
Fourteen people were arrested last year when RCMP enforced a court injunction that allowed pre-construction across Wet’suwet’en territory of the $6.6-billion pipeline, a key part of the provincially approved $40-billion LNG Canada development.
Talks between the British Columbia government and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposed to the pipeline’s construction as they say it poses a risk to the land and water, failed this week to reach an agreement on a peaceful resolution over the enforcement of the injunction.
On Friday, the RCMP said it had arrested four people for breaching the injunction. During a seven-hour period, police said, several people refused to leave a police-enforced exclusion zone and one climbed a tree while others secured themselves inside a bus and on a tower.
Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said those arrested were on their own territory and not blocking any construction, which hasn’t progressed since December.
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The blockade on Toronto’s west side was still active by mid-afternoon, with pizza being delivered to the site as protesters chanted and danced on the tracks.
“We want to call on the public to really think critically about what it means to ignore Indigenous calls to action,” said Maya Menezes, with No One Is Illegal — Toronto, which advocates for migrant justice.
“We understand that Indigenous self-determination is critically important to not only climate action but to challenging the colonial state in Canada and the act of decolonization,” Menezes said. “We’re against any type of violent invasion that tramples over Indigenous rights.”