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Indigenous rail blockades cause chaos for Ontario travellers, commuters

Indigenous rail blockades cause chaos for Ontario travellers, commuters
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Ontario commuters scrambled to make last-minute changes to their travel plans on Sunday as protesters continued their blockade of two crucial VIA Rail routes, part of a demonstration against a natural gas pipeline being built more than 4,000 kilometres away.

VIA Rail said 18 of its trains were cancelled Sunday, affecting service between Toronto and Montreal, as well as Toronto and Ottawa in both directions. Canadian National Railway traffic was also blocked along the corridor east of Toronto.

The blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk territory took over the tracks Thursday night in solidarity with demonstrators in northwest B.C., where Indigenous people and supporters are protesting the construction of a pipeline that crosses Wet’suwet’en territory. The Ontario protest, which began Thursday, is based where a road intersects with rail tracks about 20 kilometres east of Belleville and 60 kilometres west of Kingston.

VIA on Sunday said service on the two critical routes would not continue “until the issue is resolved,” according to a public statement. It said ticket holders would be automatically reimbursed for cancelled trips.

CN says it has been granted an injunction order to remove protesters from the site near Belleville.

First Nations members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory block train tracks servicing Via Rail, as part of a protest against British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Belleville, Ontario, Canada February 8, 2020. Alex Filipe / Reuters

Delayed commuters on Sunday complained of the cancellations, with some expressing frustrations over missed family events or cancelled trips to return home for the work week.

“I tried to go see my boyfriend who I haven’t seen in over a month,” said one Twitter user. “I heard stories while getting my refund at Union (Station) of a woman missing a wedding, a family missing a funeral …”

Ontario Provincial Police say they’re continuing to monitor the demonstration.

On Saturday, more protesters in Toronto disrupted Canadian Pacific Railway traffic downtown and momentarily blocked GO Transit trains on the Barrie line.

Photos from the protest site from Thursday night on social media showed a large dump truck equipped with a plough blocking tracks at a rail crossing. The distinctive red-backed flag of the Mohawk Warrior Society had been affixed to the top of a long, upright crossing barrier and a hand-painted sign read: “#RCMP get out.”

By Friday, the vehicles were not on the tracks but had been pulled back to the tracks’ edge. There was a report of a sofa being on the tracks Friday morning.
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