Minister offers to meet chiefs over cross-country anti-pipeline protests

Minister offers to meet chiefs over cross-country anti-pipeline protests
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OTTAWA -- Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller has offered to meet with three Indigenous leaders, saying their protests against a pipeline in northern British Columbia are a volatile situation.

Via Rail has extended train cancellations on major routes in Ontario and Quebec. Passenger and freight rail services have been hit particularly hard by the protests as demonstrators erect barricades on lines in different parts of the country.

Blockade organizers across Canada have said they re acting in solidarity with those opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet suwet en First Nation near Houston, B.C.

The blockades were erected after the RCMP enforced a court injunction last week against Wet suwet en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been blocking construction of the pipeline, a key part of a $40-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export project.

"My request, that I ask you kindly to consider, is to discontinue the protest and barricade of the train tracks as soon as practicable. As you well know, this is a highly volatile situation and the safety of all involved is of the utmost importance to me," Miller said in the email, a copy of which he posted publicly Thursday morning.

"I hope you will agree to this request and that we can meet in the spirit of peace and co-operation that should guide our relationship."

Miller offered to meet them at a location of their choosing.

Miller s offer comes after the Assembly of First Nations and Opposition politicians urged the Liberal government to take swifter and firmer action to defuse tensions over the pipeline.

Via Rail is cancelling service on its Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto routes until at least the end of the day on Friday because of a blockade near Belleville, Ont.

Via has also said a blockade near New Hazelton, B.C., means normal rail service is being interrupted between Prince Rupert and Prince George.

In Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister said the Justice Department will seek an injunction to end a rail blockade west of Winnipeg and have it enforced within a few days.

Meanwhile, two hereditary chiefs from the Wet suwet en First Nation have launched a constitutional challenge of fossil-fuel projects.

The challenge calls on the Federal Court to declare that Canada is constitutionally obliged to meet international climate-change targets, which the chiefs contend would cancel approvals for the Coastal GasLink line.

Coastal GasLink says it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route, but the hereditary chiefs in the Wet suwet en First Nation say they have title to a vast section of the land and never relinquished that by signing a treaty.
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