Canada's largest cargo railway has shut down operations in Eastern Canada and VIA Rail has cancelled passenger service across the country Thursday as a result of anti-pipeline blockades.
CN has obtained court orders in hopes of ending the blockades. It is progressively shutting down operations in Eastern Canada "until the illegal blockades end" as a means of protecting employees and protesters alike.
More than 400 CN trains have been cancelled in the past week, CN president and CEO JJ Ruest said in a press release. The company has stated that the shutdown could lead to temporary layoffs in Eastern Canada, with the CN workers’ union fearing as many as 6,000 workers could be impacted.
Aside from layoffs, CN officials, shippers, and manufacturers have warned that the blockades will lead to gridlock and supply shortages, with chlorine for municipal water supplies being one of the first crucial items impacted.
VIA Rail, who relies on CN’s tracks, was forced to cancel nearly all of their services. Only two northern routes - Sudbury-White River and Churchill-The pass - remain open.
At least 42,000 VIA Rail passengers have been affected by cancelations this week, after blockades near Belleville, ON impacted the well-traveled Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa triangle. VIA Rail has said that they will refund passengers whose trips have been cancelled, but warned that the process may take up to 15 days due to volume. The company will not be accepting any new bookings before February 18.
Protests began last week after the RCMP broke up a camp blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in traditional Wet’suwet’en Nation territory in northern British Columbia.
Throughout the week blockades have emerged across the country including Gitxsan territory in northern British Columbia, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Southeastern Ontario, outside of Winnipeg, and on the outskirts of Vancouver.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier John Hogan reached out to Gitxsan hereditary Chief Norman Stephens in the 24 hours prior to the CN and VIA Rail, agreeing to send cabinet ministers to meet after Stephens offered to take down the Gitxsan rail barricade.
BC’s Minister for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Scott Fraser, was encouraged by Stephens’ offer.
"The stand-down will be a show of good faith to begin the discussions that are going to happen with between the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, the Wet’suwet’en, and governments."
Fraser also noted that the hereditary chiefs have been asking Ottawa for meetings for a number of weeks, saying that it is important to the chiefs that the federal government takes part in any discussions.
Politicians and businesses from across the country have voiced concerns about the impact of the blockades.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has stated that the shutdown is problematic for Canadian businesses across the country.
“The damage is already there to the economy. We are going to feel this for days, weeks and likely months to come,” Moe said.
“The federal government needs to act, not only in meeting with these individuals of the Wet'suwet'en nation, but also by ensuring that the law of our nation is enforced and enforced very quickly.”
President of the Chemical Industry Association of Canada, Bob Masterson stated that Canada is “approaching a crisis” as a direct result of the blockages and urged the federal government to take action.
"The global investors looking at Canada are asking the question … do they not have a rule of law?"