OTTAWA — The Canadian government is deeply concerned about protests by aboriginal activists that are blocking some railway lines and hitting the shipment of key supplies, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Friday.
Indigenous communities opposed to the construction of a gas pipeline project in British Columbia started interrupting rail traffic last week. Canadian National Railway Co, the country’s biggest railroad operator, is shutting operations in Eastern Canada.
“I am deeply concerned about protests that deliberately prevent the operation of railways through illegal activity,” Garneau told a Toronto news conference.
“It is about people’s jobs and livelihoods and about the transport of key supplies like food, propane, heating oil and chemicals for water treatment, (and) agricultural products for export,” he said.
Superior Propane, Canada’s largest provider of propane, forecast critical supply shortages would start in the coming days unless the blockades ended.
Garneau said the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau felt the solution was “through dialog and seeking to build consensus” with the aboriginal groups.
Trudeau came to power in November 2015 promising to improve relations with Canada’s indigenous bands, many of whom complain they are marginalized and economically deprived. Although some groups claim to have a veto over economic development on their lands, a court said last month they had no such right.
The two cabinet ministers in charge of aboriginal affairs are preparing to meet with local indigenous bands in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.
Garneau noted that blockades in British Columbia and Manitoba had already been removed.
The most damaging protest is near Belleville in the Ontario, the most populous of Canada’s 10 provinces. Canadian National has won court injunctions to end the action but the Ontario provincial police, responsible for enforcing the measures, has so far not acted.
Andrew Scheer, leader of the official opposition Conservative Party, said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair should deploy the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police to end the protests.
“Democracy and the rule of law are fundamental pillars of our country and it’s time they are enforced. If they are not, the Trudeau Liberal government will be setting a dangerous precedent that a small few can have a devastating impact,” he told reporters in Ottawa.
Blair’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trudeau is in Germany on the last day of an eight-day trip to Africa and Europe. (Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg Editing by Alistair Bell and Marguerita Choy)