Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Tuesday against the use of force to resolve a rail blockade sparked by indigenous protesters and now in its second week.
Passenger and freight traffic has come to a halt in eastern Canada as native Americans protest in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en indigenous people in British Columbia, who are up in arms over a proposed gas pipeline that would go through their traditional lands.
“Those who would want us to act in haste, who want us to boil this down to slogans and ignore the complexities, who think that using force is helpful — it is not,” Trudeau said in an address to parliament.
“Patience may be in short supply — and that makes it more valuable than ever.”
The prime minister was forced to cancel a visit to the Caribbean, which had been set for early this week, to handle the crisis.
“The Canadian government will continue to work night and day to peacefully find a solution,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
“Just like we need indigenous leaders to be partners, we also need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right.”
Trudeau’s political opponents in the Conservative Party are not granting him much leeway.
“That was the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said.
The rails are the backbone of the Canadian economy. Every year, goods worth more than CAN$300 billion (US$226.4 billion) are transported from one end of the vast country to the other by rail.
On Friday, Canadian National Railway Co (CN) said it would have to begin a “disciplined and progressive shutdown of its operations” in eastern Canada until the blockades come to an end.
The group temporarily laid off 450 personnel, according to local media.
The blockades could put 6,000 workers out of a job in the short term, the Teamsters trade union warned, calling on Ottawa to find a quick solution.
Last week, public passenger rail service Via Rail, which uses CN’s infrastructure, said it had no choice but to suspend service.
“Beginning Thursday morning, February 20, only those trains that serve full trips between Quebec City and Ottawa will resume service,” it said Tuesday in a statement.
As of Monday, 470 trains have been canceled, and more than 94,000 passengers have been affected, the company said.