Rail Blockades Are About… Everything

By: Laura Steiner

Canada has been beset by rail blockades set off by Indigenous hereditary chiefs with Wet’sewet’en isn’t about one single pipeline.  It’s about everything facing Canada right now all tied up into one very complicated knot.

They are about the rule of law.  The Indian Act is a 144 year old piece of legislation that dictates the governing structures of First Nations’ People.  As recently  as 1997, Canadian courts have recognized the authority of the hereditary chiefs that dates back to pre-colonial Canada.  There have been crimes committed; rails damaged near Montreal, signals tampered with across the country.  Which law goes disobeyed? Break faith with the First nations, and risk more such actions? Or set a dangerous precedent by ignoring a court order?

They are about the economy.  An estimated $425 million/ day in goods are sitting in warehouses, and some on trains parked on tracks unshipped.  Goods that include propane used by some to heat houses, and jet fuel used by airports..  They’re about the jobs, and prosperity a pipeline could bring to First Nations’ lands.  It was approved by 20 elected band chiefs after all.  It’s about the potential delays if there is a change in route for the pipeline.  It’s about the jobs that CN and VIA Rail have been forced to layoff while this is going on.  It’s about the injury to Canada’s reputation if it’s cancelled because there are too many delays.

They are about the injustices wrought by the Indian Act.  Residential Schools that stripped generations of their heritage making it difficult to keep traditional ways alive.  It’s about the boil water advisories, and chronic housing problems in the middle of one of the most developed countries on earth.  It’s about the circumstances surrounding the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and their families, many of whom don’t, and will never have answers.

They are about the environment, and climate change.  It was always going to be tough to balance a climate change agenda with the reality that Canada is a resource-based country.  They’re about the damage done by the industry, and how to negate them.  A shift away from that would take a few generations, and new policy framework.

They’re about leadership.  This week both the Prime Minister, and leader of the opposition showed a stunning lack of it.  Trudeau making a speech Tuesday committing his government to a path of negotiation.  Three days later he holds a press conference asserting the barricades must come down.   A Conservative Party leader who has all the fire and brimstone, and yet no solution. They’re about both Justin Trudeau, and Andrew Scheer’s failure to recognize the problems highlighted here have been generations in the making.  It’ll take generations, and multiple governments to repair the relationship.

There is a lot of unrest in Canada boiling below the surface.  The barricades have brought it all out.