Provincial and federal governments agree to meeting with Indigenous chiefs over pipeline protests, rail blockade
VICTORIA -- The B.C. government has agreed to meet with Indigenous hereditary chiefs over ongoing pipeline protests and rail blockades across B.C. and Canada.
In a letter to Gitxsan Nation hereditary chief Norman Stephens, Premier John Horgan says he, or a senior member of his cabinet, would be willing to meet with Indigenous leaders on the condition that an ongoing rail blockade in northern B.C. is lifted.
The letter was in response to a proposal from Stephens and hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en Nation to meet with provincial and federal ministers to resolve the impasse over the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
"I confirm our government's willingness to participate in such a meeting on the basis you propose. Further, my office has informed the federal government of our responses and we have urged the federal government to respond as quickly as possible to the proposal," Horgan wrote Wednesday.
"I understand that on receipt of his letter and a similar commitment from Canada, the blockade of the CN line will be removed to allow for a period of calm and peaceful dialogue."
The federal government has agreed to meet with leaders of the Wet'suwet'en and the Gitxsan nations.
In his own letter issued Wednesday, also addressed to Stephens, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his government's intention to participate in the meeting "to engage in dialogue on how the current impasse over pipeline development arose, to discuss the current situation and to seek a process that avoids such situations in the future."
Trudeau wrote that a member of the federal cabinet would be available "as soon as arrangements for the meeting can be made."
Rail blockade organizers across Canada have said they're acting in solidarity with those opposed to the Coastal GasLink 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.
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.
Without their consent, the project cannot be built, they say, and they've repeatedly gone to court to stop it - without success.
With files from The Canadian Press