OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the RCMP in British Columbia has offered to move its officers to a town away from the area where traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have been opposing a pipeline project on their territory.
Blair said Thursday he believes this move meets conditions set by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
“I believe the time has come now for the barricades to come down,” Blair said before a cabinet meeting.
“We have met the condition that those who are on the barricades had said was important to them before they would change their posture, and that work has been done, and I think quite appropriately.”
The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project that would bring natural gas to a liquefaction facility and export terminal on the B.C. coast, though elected band-council leaders broadly support it.
Countrywide protests and blockades followed a move by the RCMP to enforce a court injunction earlier this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to the company’s work site.
The hereditary chiefs have demanded the RCMP leave their traditional land and have refused to meet with federal or provincial officials until this was done.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under increasing pressure to end the blockades, with Conservatives calling for the government to use force, while the Liberal government insists negotiations are the only way to a lasting solution.
Blair said the decision to move officers away from their outpost on the traditional Wet’suwet’en territory to the nearby town of Houston was a decision made by the RCMP in B.C. and added he agrees it was the right move.
“I’m very proud of the work that was done by the leadership of the RCMP. Their commitment to peaceful resolution of these complex issues is, I think, quite commendable and Canadians should be very proud of the work that they do,” he said.
“It’s moving towards a less confrontational and a more peaceable arrangement entirely appropriate to the circumstances, and I’m very hopeful that will satisfy the concerns that were raised.”
In a speech in the House of Commons, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said while she has not yet been able to meet with all the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in person, she has conversed with some of them and hopes to meet with them all soon to clarify a path forward.
“We are committed to finding a mutually acceptable process with them and the Wet’suwet’en nation, to sit down and address the urgent and long-term issues at hand,” Bennett said.
“We hope that the Wet’suwet’en will be able to express to those in solidarity with them that it is now time for them to stand down and let us get back to work.”
Four Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have travelled east and are expected to meet with members of the Mohawk Nation in Quebec and Ontario who have been protesting in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. Mohawks at Tyendinaga, between Toronto and Montreal, have blocked a critical rail line, cutting both freight and passenger traffic with coast-to-coast ramifications.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Thursday they were eager to meet the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and would be happy to do it while they’re close to Ottawa.
Bennett sent a letter Wednesday saying she would be in northern B.C. on Thursday if they wanted to meet with her there, before it was apparent they wouldn’t be present.
She said her office had not heard from the chiefs about whether they would be prepared have those discussions now that the RCMP has offered to retreat from their territory, but she remains optimistic.
“The presence of the community industry safety office — the temporary detachment on their land — was a very significant obstacle to continuing dialogue,” Bennett said.
“We are hopeful that this change will allow the conversations to continue.”
Miller said he believes this is a “a significant step” to seeing a quick resolution.
However, he also urged the Canadian public to be patient as the next steps are taken to ease tensions that have led to widespread blockades of rail, highway and bridge traffic.
“Everyone wants to take the air out of this balloon in the most controlled way. The problem is most people are coming at us with a pin and that isn’t the right solution,” Miller said.
“There are some easy, expedient ways to resolve conflict, the problem is most of the time they’re not the right way, so I urge Canadians, I know the pain they’re going through, but we ask for a little more patience because there is a real opportunity to show the world that we can resolve these issues in a peaceful way.”
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said she is looking for “practical ways” to support farmers who have been unable to get products to market as a result of the barricades. However, she would not elaborate, saying she needed to speak with cabinet colleagues first.
Ontario Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, who is running for his party’s leadership, issued a statement saying if he were prime minister, he would criminalize blocking transportation corridors and issue a blanket policy telling police to clear blockades without waiting for court orders.