Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says he’s hoping the RCMP’s offer to leave their outpost on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. will lead to the barricades coming down, as talks aimed at ending the rail blockades crippling the country’s rail network continue.
“I’m very hopeful that that will satisfy the concerns that were raised,” said Blair ahead of a Thursday morning cabinet meeting.
“I believe the time has come now for the barricades to come down.”
CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter sent Wednesday from RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan to the hereditary chiefs offering to move the RCMP’s temporary detachment from near the protest site to the nearby town of Houston — as long as Morice West Forest Service Road remains clear. The RCMP confirmed that letter was sent.
“As always, we encourage dialogue over enforcement with a goal of a long-term solution,” Strachan wrote, while asking for a meeting “in the near future.”
In a separate letter to staff, Strachan said the decision to re-assess their presence was “not an easy one to consider.”
“By making this gesture in good faith, we are not only supporting efforts towards a peaceful and sustainable solution, but also facilitating them,” she wrote in the internal email, first reported on by Global News.
“Our hope has always been to create mutual understanding for a peaceful resolution, without the need for police intervention.”
Watch: Blair says he doesn’t direct RCMP on blockades
It’s not clear yet whether the hereditary chiefs will meet with federal and provincial government representatives. Earlier this afternoon, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said she had not heard back from the chiefs on whether they will accept Strachan’s offer.
The RCMP, which acts as the provincial police service in B.C., moved in to enforce a court injunction earlier this month after the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters blocked construction of the $6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project. The B.C. Supreme Court issued an injunction in December authorizing the police to clear away the protesters who had blocked access to the public road.
Those arrests triggered national protests and the rail blockades, which have lasted just over two weeks now. Via Rail announced nearly 1,000 layoffs Wednesday in response to the nationwide rail shutdown, while CN Rail says it has issued temporary pink slips to 450 workers because the blockade has shuttered much of its eastern Canadian operations.
Bennett has offered to meet with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs as soon as possible to help resolve the dispute.
So far, the hereditary chiefs have said they won’t meet with the federal and provincial ministers until the RCMP leave their territory.
Blair said he hopes the RCMP’s offer will meet the chiefs’ conditions.
“I have not been directing the RCMP, but they have been making very thoughtful and well-informed operational decisions with respect to their deployment in response to concerns that have been raised,” he said after today’s cabinet meeting.
Watch: Miller is still waiting to meet the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs
In a tweet, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called the RCMP’s decision “an important opportunity for progress, dialogue and safety.”
A handful of hereditary chiefs are travelling to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., to meet with protesters there who have been blockading CN Rail in solidarity. The chiefs are also expected to visit Mohawks at Kahnawake in Quebec.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office put out a statement calling the B.C. developments a positive step while pushing for a timeline to end the blockades.
“While the Ontario government believes in the rule of law, it is imperative that elected officials do not direct police operational decisions,” his office said in a statement.
“We believe the OPP is in the best position to ensure the protest remains peaceful, as both sides find a negotiated resolution.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet met in Ottawa Thursday morning to chart a path forward.
“We’re working very hard to end the blockades. It’s an unacceptable situation,” said the prime minister.
CN Rail says it has obtained an injunction to dismantle a rail blockade on Montreal’s South Shore.
“We’ve obtained the injunction and are hoping for a swift resolution of this incident so that passenger commuter rail service can resume,” it said in a statement.
Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters earlier Thursday that “once the injunction is granted, we will dismantle the blockade.”
Watch: Blair says B.C. RCMP offering to leave Wet’suwet’en territory