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RM OF HEADINGLEY — It was a satisfying sight for Harrison Powder: a freight train stopped, hundreds of metres up the track from a blockade erected by a group of demonstrators.
Powder was among a group of 10 along a windswept country road, about 25 kilometres west of Winnipeg, protesting RCMP enforcement of a court-ordered injunction in northern British Columbia and the arrests of community leaders from Wet’suwet’en Nation.
A spokesman for CN Rail said train movements on the line stopped Wednesday because of the blockade.
"Canada should remember this, so should the RCMP and industry the next time they go invading Indigenous territory trying to force a pipeline through," said Powder, a member of Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta, and a Winnipeg resident. "They should remember what happened here with this incident, because it can happen again."
Province seeks injunction to end rail protesters’ blockadeClick to Expand
Posted: 9:30 PM Feb. 12, 2020
The Progressive Conservative government plans to apply for a court injunction to prevent protesters from continuing to disrupt rail traffic on the CN main line in Manitoba.
Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba Attorney General Cliff Cullen has instructed the Justice Department to prepare the application to empower the RCMP to take the necessary action to prevent disruptions to rail service.
Just before 11 a.m., as temperatures dipped to -29 C (with a windchill value of -46 C), protesters set up the blockade on the Canadian National rail line running adjacent to Wilkes Avenue, west of Provincial Road 334, and built a fire next to a nearby outbuilding.
The CN Rivers subdivision is the company’s main line through Manitoba, and runs west to Melville, Sask.
Several police cars — including RCMP, CN police, and Canadian Pacific rail police — were on scene in the early afternoon to monitor the demonstration.
Officers mostly remained in their vehicles during the time a Free Press reporter was on site, stepping out to talk with the protesters occasionally and allowing access for a maintenance worker to perform a safety inspection on the rail line (which demonstrators didn’t object to).
Manitoba RCMP spokesman Sgt. Paul Manaigre said the Mounties and CN police are monitoring the protest, and an RCMP liaison officer was attending to the site.
"We are mindful of our roles and responsibilities to the public to keep the peace and to be part of the solution," Manaigre said in a statement. "The role of the division liaison team officers is to establish a dialogue and maintain open and ongoing communication.
"These specially trained officers are an essential part of building a relationship of trust, respect, and mutual understanding between the police, protesters and the affected public."
Demonstrators say they will enforce the blockade as long as their resources allow, including overnight and in the days to come, or until RCMP cease operations in Wet’suwet’en territory. They called for more people to join the Manitoba demonstration in Diamond, where a CP rail line intersects the CN track.
With his face covered by a camouflage scarf, Powder said the efforts by the group of "land defenders" on the quiet stretch of road is part of a larger national effort to restrict train traffic in response to RCMP actions in northern B.C.
CN has been forced to shut down significant parts of its Canadian network due to blockades near Belleville, Ont., and on CN’s northern mainline in B.C., between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
The company has cancelled hundreds of trains since blockades began six days ago.
On Monday, RCMP confronted and arrested seven Wet’suwet’en protesters, including three community matriarchs. Mounties were enforcing an injunction to allow Coastal GasLink access to the territory to build a liquid natural gas pipeline.
While the project has received approval from the 20 elected First Nations band councils whose territory the proposed pipeline crosses, it has not received the support of eight of the nine Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
During the past week, the B.C. blockade has served as a rallying cry around the country. Recent events in Winnipeg have included demonstrations that shut down the downtown intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, and a youth occupation of Liberal MP Dan Vandal's St. Boniface riding constituency office.
Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau issued a statement Wednesday, saying the federal government is closely monitoring the protests.
"The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right in Canada, but individuals who choose to use this right must do so in accordance with the law. There are active court injunctions in place that were taken by CN to ensure service can resume, and they must be respected," Garneau said, referring to orders issued in Ontario and B.C.
"Police forces in our country act completely independently of all levels of government. First and foremost, their priority is to ensure the safety of all people in Canada."
On the cold Manitoba prairie, blockade supporter Black Turtle, a grandmother and member of a group called the Urban Warriors Alliance, said she and others will carry out the demonstration as long "as creator allows."
"This will really affect the economy. It will affect certain people’s pockets," she said. "Those people’s pockets that we’re affecting here are the ones we want to get the message to.
"If we all stood up all at once, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous alike, those who love mother earth and who want a good home for their grandchildren — if we all stood up at the same time, we could stop this madness."
— with files from Ryan Thorpe
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.