Large portions of Canada’s train service have shut down—including a vital cross-continental rail line—after indigenous land defenders blockaded several major railways in countrywide anti-pipeline protests.
The country’s largest rail network, Canadian National Railway (CN), announced Thursday it would begin “a progressive and orderly shutdown” of its lines across eastern Canada. VIA Rail, a passenger service largely dependent on CN railways, announced a similar cancelation in turn, indefinitely suspending services for more than 150 trains, according to the Globe and Mail. An earlier demonstration blockaded one of VIA Rail’s major lines, the now-closed Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa triangle, forcing roughly 250,000 passengers to cancel trips.
By stopping these trains, protestors are tying up millions of dollars worth of freight and rerouting thousands of passengers, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to government officials calling for the blockades’ removal. Such a standstill threatens to “severely limit the movement of perishable foods and other consumer items, grain, construction materials and propane for Quebec and Atlantic Canada,” the statement continues.
All this week, indigenous rights and climate justice advocates have been fighting to halt construction on the $5 billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline by blockading trains, ports, and other transit. The initial protest traces back to British Columbia, where construction for the 416-mile pipeline cuts through the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. For more than a year, their ranks have fiercely pushed back against the construction process by blocking roads where the project is underway.
The issue came to a head last Thursday when police—after obtaining an injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation from British Columbia’s Supreme Court—raided the site with heavy machinery and helicopters to physically remove anyone who hampered construction. Police arrested 28 land defenders in the incursion, causing significant public outcry and a subsequent outpouring of solidarity for their cause as well as anti-pipeline activism.