Addressing the House of Commons Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Canadians to be patient with his government as it seeks a negotiated end to Indigenous protests that have crippled the country’s transportation network.
Trudeau said his government is committed to “dialogue” with the Indigenous protesters that have shut down CN Rail in eastern Canada and much of Via Rail’s services nationwide by blocking a key artery in southern Ontario.
The blockade has been in place for 12 days and CN has been forced to shutter its network of east of Toronto since Friday — a devastating development for businesspeople, commuters and farmers who rely on the railway for their livelihoods. The protesters from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory say they are acting in solidarity with some of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline project running through their traditional territory.
“On all sides, people are upset and frustrated. I get it,” Trudeau said. “It’s understandable because this is about things that matter — rights and livelihoods, the rule of law and our democracy.”
While the prime minister did not lay out a clear path forward in his speech, Trudeau seemed to be ruling out police intervention at this point in favour of more conversations with the protesters. He said the suggestion from the Conservative Opposition that Ottawa forcibly remove the protesters from camps along the CN tracks in Belleville, Ont. is “not helpful.”
“Finding a solution will not be simple. It will take determination, hard work and cooperation,” Trudeau said. “We are creating a space for peaceful honest dialogue with willing partners … We need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right.”
An hours-long meeting between Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and the Mohawk on Saturday failed to end the blockade. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett flew to B.C. Monday to meet with Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, but that meeting never actually took place.
Trudeau said that, for too long, the federal government has ignored Indigenous demands to solve lingering land and treaty disputes. He chastised Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (without mentioning him by name) and other politicians he accused of pushing Ottawa to “act with haste and boil this down to slogans and ignore the complexities.”
‘Weakest response to a national crisis’
Scheer called Trudeau’s address “the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history.”
He said Trudeau’s speech offered Canadians “a word salad” with no meaningful plan to restore rail service and end the illegal blockades that are hampering the country’s economy.
“The prime minister’s statement was a complete abdication of responsibility and leadership,” Scheer said. “The prime minister has emboldened and encouraged this kind of behaviour.”
Scheer said the Conservatives stand with “everyday hard-working Canadians” and not the “radical activists” he claimed are determined to shut down the country’s energy industry.
On Friday, Scheer said the prime minister should direct the RCMP to remove the protesters. The Ontario Provincial Police are on hand in Tyendinaga but they have not yet enforced a court injunction that gives them the power to dismantle the protest camps and arrest those behind the blockade.
During a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday morning, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said all the players — federal and provincial politicians, hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs and elected band officials — need to come to the table.
“It’s on everybody. It’s not on any one individual,” he said. “I’m just calling on all the parties to come together, get this dialogue started in a constructive way.”
Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon called on protesters to end the rail blockades as a “show of good faith.”
“Bringing down the blockades doesn’t mean that you surrender. It doesn’t mean we’re going to lay down and let them kick us around. No, it would show compassion,” he said.
“I’m simply pleading with the protesters … Have you made your point yet? Has the government and industry understood? I think they did.”
Business groups were calling on the federal government Tuesday to take steps to immediately restore full rail service.
Dennis Darby, CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said the situation is “beyond serious.”
The group estimates that goods worth about $425 million are being stranded every day the blockade continues — and it will take three to four days of work to recover from a single day of disruption.
Bob Masterson, president and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, said a prolonged shutdown inevitably would lead to shortages of his industry’s products, such as jet fuel for planes, propane for home heating and chlorine for drinking water.
Protesters with the Mohawks of Tyendinaga have been stationed beside the tracks near Belleville, Ont., since Feb. 6 to protest the RCMP’s raids in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C.
Via Rail said partial service is set to resume between Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa beginning Thursday.
Almost all other Via Rail services remain cancelled, with the exception of Sudbury-White River and Churchill-The Pas, until further notice.
Via says the partial resumption of service between Ottawa and Quebec City follows a notification received from Canadian National Railway.
Violent ends to past Indigenous protests haunt Trudeau government – CTV News
The ghosts of Indigenous protests past have hovered over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as his government struggles to bring a peaceful end to blockades that have disrupted traffic on rail lines and other major transportation routes across the country for more than two weeks.
Oka. Ipperwash. Caledonia. Gustafsen Lake. Burnt Church.
Those are just some of the names that evoke grim memories of violent confrontations that resulted from attempts to forcibly shut down Indigenous protests.
Even as he called Friday for police to enforce injunctions and bring down the barricades, Trudeau stressed the need for a peaceful resolution and worried about the potential for another Oka — the 78-day standoff in Quebec in 1990 that left one police officer dead, an Indigenous teenager badly wounded and the relationship between Mohawks and non-Indigenous locals in tatters.
“History has taught us how governments can make matters worse if they fail to exhaust all other possible avenues,” Trudeau said.
The lesson has been repeated countless times over the past 60 years and will continue to be repeated so long as federal and provincial governments fail to resolve Indigenous land claims, in the view of Hayden King, executive director of the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led think tank at Ryerson University.
“We see through Canadian history that Canadians want access to the land, they want to use the land, they want to extract resources from the land and, even if that means harm, significant harm and violence to Indigenous Peoples, that overriding interest has prevailed,” says King.
“And now we’re at a point in Canadian history where all those cases (of violent confrontation) … they’ve all culminated to the point that we’re at now where there isn’t a clear avenue to address this in a climate of so-called reconciliation.”
At least initially, in resisting pressure for immediate enforcement of injunctions and calling for patience, Trudeau struck a markedly different tone than bellicose government leaders faced with similar circumstances in the past.
Michael Coyle, a Western University law professor who specializes in Indigenous rights and dispute resolution, says that was the right approach and “much more likely to lead to a mutually agreed and respectful outcome.”
But under pressure from business leaders, premiers and the public, Trudeau adopted a more assertive tone Friday, insisting the barricade must come down.
While the prime minister insisted he wasn’t directing the police, King says Trudeau was signalling to police that the time had come to move in. King believes, however, that police forces are “less susceptible” to that kind of pressure from political leaders than in the past.
Coyle too, believes police and some politicians have learned from past mistakes that the use of force risks lives, can inflame an already tense situation and doesn’t necessarily lead to “an enduring peaceful outcome.” Police have also learned that enforcing the rule of law includes protecting Indigenous rights, he says.
Indeed, so far, police across the country have shown considerably more restraint and sensitivity than was exhibited by the Ontario Provincial Police in 1995 when members of the Stony Creek First Nation occupied land appropriated by the federal government for a military training camp and the nearby Ipperwash Provincial Park.
Under pressure from the provincial government to quickly remove the protesters from the park and acting on unverified reports of gunfire, dozens of heavily armed OPP officers in riot gear marched towards the protesters at night. In the fear and confusion that followed, Indigenous protester Dudley George was shot and killed.
An inquiry into the Ipperwash crisis was highly critical of the OPP for failing to educate officers on Indigenous rights or to discipline some of the overtly racist officers involved. It also criticized police and the government for not trying first to communicate with protesters or negotiate an end to the park occupation.
In the current crisis, Trudeau has expressed confidence in the “professionalism” of the police to deal with blockades that sprung up across the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia. And he has categorically ruled out deploying the military.
Back in 1990, some 800 soldiers wound up facing off against Indigenous protesters after a botched police raid to remove a blockade — set up by Kanesatake Mohawk warriors to protest expansion of a golf course on disputed land that included a Mohawk burial ground — left one officer dead.
The raid inflamed tensions, prompting neighbouring Kahnawake and Akwesasne Mohawks to erect more barricades that shut down highways and the Mercier bridge, cutting off residents in Montreal’s southern suburbs from the island of Montreal. Some infuriated local residents retaliated by throwing stones at cars taking the elderly, women and children out of the Kanesatake reserve.
While Oka and Ipperwash were the deadliest, there have been other instances when attempts to forcibly end Indigenous protests have turned ugly. Here’s a summary of a few:
Mohawks from the Six Nations of the Grand River occupied a construction site for a new subdivision on disputed land in this community southwest of Hamilton. Local residents accused the Mohawks of harassment, intimidation and sabotage and they accused the OPP of doing nothing to protect them. The occupation lasted 52 days before the OPP launched a raid and arrested 16 people. Several police officers were injured and property destroyed. In solidarity, Mohawks of Tyendinaga blocked railroad tracks near Belleville, just as they are doing now in support of the Wet’suwet’en.
GUSTAFSON LAKE (1995)
A rancher tried to kick a small group of First Nations Sundancers off his property — which they claimed was unceded Secwepemc territory — in northern B.C. They refused to leave. Some 400 RCMP officers were deployed to the site, backed up by helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. Gunfights ensued. One Indigenous woman was injured. The standoff lasted several months, said to be one of the largest police actions in Canadian history at a cost of $5.5 million.
BURNT CHURCH (1999-2002)
This began as a long-running dispute between non-Indigenous and Mi’kmaq fishers in New Brunswick, over the Mi’kmaqs’ treaty rights to catch fish and lobster out of season. There were numerous violent confrontations between them, with shots fired. In August 2000, federal fisheries officers launched a raid on Mi’kmaq lobster traps, ramming Mi’kmaq boats and forcing their occupants overboard.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2020.
'The time has come': Despite pleas from government, no sign of blockades coming down – CTV News
As hereditary chiefs from Wet’suwet’en First Nation return to British Columbia, protesters show no signs of removing the blockades crippling the country’s rail network despite ongoing pleas from the federal government.
“The time has come. The barricades must come down,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said during an interview with CTV’s Question Period Sunday, reiterating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message to protesters Friday.
“The law must be obeyed. But at the same time we are not in any way stepping back from our commitment to continue the dialogue that is part of the entire reconciliation agenda.”
On Friday, Trudeau said court injunctions to put an end to the blockades “must be obeyed” and that “the law must be upheld.”
But little has changed at theblockade near Belleville, Ont. blocking a critical east-west rail line between Toronto and Montreal, where there are no signs that protesters plan on dismantling their camp. Meanwhile, Via Rail said it is set to resume certain routes, including its Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa route on Monday.
“We all understand the importance of a peaceful resolution, but a speedy resolution because the impact of these barricades is unacceptable, untenable,” said Blair, noting that while the government wants protesters to remove the blockades, he understands there is still “a lot of work to be done” with Indigenous leaders.
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders spent Friday near the Belleville-area blockade meeting with Mohawk supporters.
Following the meeting, Hereditary Chief Woos said the group was ready to engage in nation-to-nation talks with the B.C. and federal government once the RCMP and Coastal GasLink leave their traditional territory and cease work on the natural gas pipeline project.
The RCMP have “temporarily” closed a remote detachment that stood on Wet’suwet’en territory at the 29-kilometre mark on the Morice West Forest Service Road, positioning themselves instead in the nearby town of Houston, B.C. However, the RCMP says patrols will continue in the area.
Blair said the RCMP has held up their end of the deal, but noted that the RCMP will not abandon the area entirely.
“I have great confidence in the deputy commissioner in B.C. and in her officers. They have been working tirelessly to resolve this peacefully, and I would encourage the hereditary chiefs to come back to that discussion and let’s work together,” he said.
“The role and the duty and responsibility of the RCMP is to provide policing services and keep safe the thousands of people that live in that region. We’re not going to be able to abandon them and so they will continue to receive the services that they need from the RCMP.”
He also noted that Costal GasLink is in the process of obtaining a new permit and work would not continue on the territory until that permit is issued.
– With files from The Canadian Press
Russian spy case documents missing or destroyed, Canada’s info watchdog finds – CityNews
OTTAWA — Federal officials lost or possibly destroyed sensitive records about the case of a naval officer convicted of selling secrets to Russia, an investigation by Canada’s information commissioner has found.
The commissioner’s probe, which involved the country’s top public servant and the prime minister’s national-security adviser, left key questions unanswered because the classified records about the spy case could not be located.
The episode began seven years ago when The Canadian Press filed an Access to Information Act request with the Privy Council Office for briefing notes, emails and reports about the case of Jeffrey Delisle from a three-week period in the spring of 2013.
Delisle, a troubled junior naval officer, had been sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to passing classified western intelligence to Russia in exchange for cash on a regular basis for more than four years.
The access law, intended to ensure government transparency, allows people who pay a $5 fee to ask for a wide array of federal documents, with some specific exceptions.
The Privy Council Office, the apex of the federal bureaucracy, responded in August 2013 that the records concerning Delisle would be entirely withheld from release because they dealt with matters such as investigations, international relations and detection of subversive or hostile activities.
The Canadian Press complained the following month to the information commissioner, an ombudsman for users of the law who has the power to review documents and decide whether they have been properly withheld.
The events that followed were detailed this month in a letter to the news agency from information commissioner Caroline Maynard.
The commissioner’s office asked in 2013 for an uncensored copy of the files to examine and the Privy Council Office said arrangements would be made for an investigator to view the sensitive records on site.
However, it appears more than five years passed before the commissioner’s office followed up.
In July 2019, the deputy director of the Privy Council Office corporate-services branch told one of the commissioner’s investigators the documents had “most likely” been inadvertently destroyed.
Maynard then issued an order to Greta Bossenmaier, the national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister at the time, to produce the records — a move aimed at determining whether they had indeed been purged.
In late November, the Privy Council Office’s director of Access to Information replied on Bossenmaier’s behalf that the Privy Council Office could neither locate the records nor confirm if they had been destroyed.
The director provided a few more clues: in 2013, an access analyst viewed the records in a secure area of the office’s security and intelligence secretariat. They were then placed in a folder that appears to have been returned to a different cabinet.
“Should the documents be located, PCO will inform your office,” he wrote.
As the PCO had still not confirmed the status of the documents, Maynard asked Privy Council clerk Ian Shugart in a Dec. 30, 2019, letter to provide any existing records by Jan. 20.
“I also urged the clerk to ensure that PCO take the necessary steps to guarantee that all records relevant to ongoing (Access to Information) complaints are properly stored,” says Maynard’s letter to The Canadian Press.
The Privy Council Office’s assistant deputy minister replied to Maynard last month that the records could not be found and called the matter “an isolated incident.”
Since the incident, the PCO “has committed to ensuring a more rigorous approach” is taken with such requests, said Pierre-Alain Bujold, a Privy Council Office spokesman.
The PCO says it now directs officials to make copies of sensitive documents, ensure the request number is prominently displayed, and place the file in a centralized vault for safekeeping and future reference.
Natalie Bartlett, a spokeswoman for Maynard, declined to comment, saying the access law doesn’t allow the office to discuss an investigation unless and until it is published in a report.
In her letter to The Canadian Press, Maynard, who became commissioner in March 2018, apologized for the delay in investigating the complaint.
“Your complaint has brought to the fore both the importance of institutions’ proper identification and preservation of responsive records, as well as the importance of conducting timely investigations.”
Maynard said that upon her appointment she instituted measures to ensure older complaints “continue to be actively pursued and that files do not remain unassigned for lengthy periods of time.”
She added that in this case, without the records, “I cannot effectively assess whether PCO was justified in refusing access, in whole or in part, under the act, nor can I prospectively recommend that information, incapable of being located, be disclosed.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2020.
—Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter
Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press
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