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24 Feb, 2020 22:26

Ontario police arrest First Nations protesters amid standoff with Canadian government over pipeline

Ontario police arrest First Nations protesters amid standoff with Canadian government over pipeline

Police in Ontario arrested 10 people and dismantled the Tyendinaga Mohawk blockade that had shut down much of Canada’s rail traffic for the past two weeks, but the battle over a pipeline going through indigenous lands continues.

Mohawks set up barricades on the Canadian Pacific railway track on February 8, in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs over in British Columbia, who are protesting efforts to build a natural gas pipeline through the land they claim. They demand that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau order the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) out of their territory before any negotiations can begin.

Some 10 people were arrested on Monday morning as Ontario Provincial Police began clearing up the blockade, which had crippled Canada’s freight and passenger traffic for the past two weeks. Other protesters set up short-term blockades on roads and bridges throughout Canada, including a border crossing with the US at Niagara Falls at one point.

Mohawks responded to the arrests by blocking the railway in Kahnawake and the road in nearby Kanesatake, as well as slowing down traffic on two highways heading into Montreal, Quebec.

Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said that all the blockades “must come down” as they are having a “profound” impact on the Canadian economy. More than 1,500 railway workers have been laid off amid the shutdown.

As Trudeau’s cabinet held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, some 200 protesters marched through Ottawa in support of the Wet'suwet'en. 

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There are approximately 2,500 Wet'suwet'en (People of the Wa Dzun Kwuh River) in northern British Columbia, divided into five clans. Coastal GasLink (CGL), which seeks to build a 670km (416-mile) pipeline through their lands to transport natural gas to the coast, says it has obtained consent from elected tribal officials. This is disputed by the hereditary chiefs – whose status Canada does not recognize. There are no formal treaties between Canada and any First Nations in British Columbia.

The pipeline, whose value is estimated at $4.9 billion (Can$6.6 billion), has been in the works since 2012, but the hereditary chiefs have sought to stop it by means of blockades and protests. Environmental activists have joined up, arguing that the pipeline is prone to leaks and will contaminate the drinking water, as well as the pristine native hunting and fishing grounds.

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A proposed mine in Alberta oil sands has already become a casualty of the crisis, with Teck Resources Limited withdrawing its application for the Can$20 billion project on Sunday, ahead of the regulatory deadline, citing “growing debate around this issue.”

Leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, hammered Trudeau over what he described as the PM’s inaction on the protests, arguing that “political unrest” has cost Canada Can$70 billion in energy projects.

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