Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited unacceptable shortages and layoffs Wednesday while he said his government is working extremely hard to resolve rail blockades in support of Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.
Mr. Trudeau has faced increased political pressure to provide specifics on his governments response to the disruptions, including a new blockade set up on the Canadian National Railway line in Edmonton.
A group that refers to themselves as Cuzzins for Wetsuweten said it is protesting in support of the hereditary chiefs. It also said the demonstrators plan to continue their efforts until Mr. Trudeau intervenes and the RCMP leaves Wetsuweten territory.
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Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said on Twitter that Albertans will not be economic hostages to law-breaking extremists.
It is my expectation that law enforcement will take all appropriate action to enforce the law, he said.
On Parliament Hill on Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also called for the RCMP to leave the territory on Wednesday, while he also suggested a special mediator be appointed for discussions.
This will only be solved by de-esclation, Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Singh also called for Mr. Trudeau to meet the hereditary chiefs and consider compensation for affected workers.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who met Wednesday on Parliament Hill with his Liberal caucus, said Canadians are hurting as a result of the disruptions while he stressed the highest levels of government are engaged on the file.
Mr. Miller also called the situation a pivotal point in Canadas history.
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A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said late Tuesday the minister had a conference call Tuesday afternoon with a number of Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs.
She listened to their concerns and reiterated that she remains committed to coming to their territory as soon as they are available, her office said in an email.
During an emergency debate on the issue that took place Tuesday evening in the House of Commons, the MP whose riding includes the Wetsuweten territory said successive federal governments are to blame for not addressing unresolved land issues.
NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, who represents the B.C. riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley, said Ottawa has never addressed the legal questions raised by the Supreme Courts 1997 Delgamuukw case, which was brought by Wetsuweten and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs.
The ruling recognized Aboriginal title to traditional lands, but left many key questions to be resolved through further legal proceedings or negotiations.
Mr. Bachrach said governments ignored that advice and are now facing the consequences.
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In that [Supreme Court] ruling the judge directed the federal government that it had a moral, if not legal, duty to enter into and conduct those negotiations in good faith on the question of their Indigenous title, said Mr. Bachrach.
In over 20 years since that historic ruling, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to step up and begin the difficult work of upholding, acknowledging and affirming Wet’suwet’en title.
Mr. Bahrach said the debate over the standoffs must recognize that hereditary chiefs are advocating for the rights to traditional lands, which are much larger than the reserves in the area created under the Indian Act that have elected leaders.
There has been so much said in recent days about what percentage of people support what, and my fear is this only serves to further deepen the divides that have been created, he said. The reality is that the heredity chiefs represent a legitimate decision-making body for indigenous people outside of reserves. The court has said so.
With files from The Canadian Press