Hamilton police close access to rail lines as Wet’suwet’en protest continues

KEY FACTS

  • On Monday evening, more than a dozen people gathered on the tracks owned by CN Rail near Hamilton

  • A group called Wet’suwet’en Strong: Hamilton in Solidarity, have claimed responsibility for the blockade

  • GO Transit cancelled train service at its stations in Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton and West Harbour Tuesday morning

Hamilton police say they have closed off all access to the Hamilton rail junction as Wet’suwet’en solidarity demonstrations continued Tuesday and say anyone found there who is not law enforcement would be in violation of an injunction.

Protesters remained blocking the railway off York Boulevard and on Highway 6 between Argyle Street South and Greens Road Tuesday, forcing GO Transit to cancel morning train service at its stations in Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton and West Harbour and instead run shuttle buses between the stations.

“The protesters have been served with an injunction by CN Rail and we are encouraging them to abide by that injunction and leave the area peacefully,” said Const. Jerome Stewart just after 11 a.m. from the scene.

The Wet’suwet’en solidarity blockades halted rush hour GO service on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

Stewart stressed their “primary objective is to maintain peace.”

He wouldn’t specify the number of officers involved, but noted that there were police on scene and others in the area on standby.

He was not aware of any negotiations with protesters, who posted on Facebook that they burned the injunction.

Hamilton police said they were called to the area around 5 p.m. on Monday night.

Demonstrators and supporters blocking a Hamilton rail junction that is one of the busiest in Canada as well as the Highway 6 bypass in Caledonia suggest they aren’t going anywhere soon.

Hours after the OPP dismantled the rail blockade in Tyendinaga on Monday that has garnered national attention in solidarity with the B.C. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the local demonstrations popped up.

Protesters occupy a new road blockade on Hwy. 6 bypass bridge over the Grand River in Caledonia.

“We’re not leaving as long as it’s possible to be here,” a group on Facebook called “Wet’suwet’en Strong: Hamilton in Solidary” posted Tuesday morning.

Supporter Marcia Hicks arrived at the site with food and sleeping bags to carry down to the protesters just before 11 a.m.

She said she supported the cause because it “speaks” to her on “many levels.”

“In terms of the environmental implications of constant investment into oil,” she said. “Also how our government responds to people in opposition.”

Hicks added that it’s important for her to stand up to what she believes in. While she hasn’t personally encountered anyone “passionately inconvenienced” by the blockades, she said anyone who is should “fact check” the implications of what doing nothing could mean.

“I would love to believe it will make a change,” she said, pointing to the recent cancellation of the Teck Resources mine.

The protesters are located near Bayview Junction, an intersection of major rail lines on the edge of Hamilton and Burlington often described as one of the busiest in Canada.

CN freight tracks — also used by VIA Rail and GO trains — run through the junction between Toronto and Niagara Falls, passing through Hamilton and by the West Harbour GO station.

Another CN line running through Dundas also intersects the junction, while a separately owned Canadian Pacific Railway line passes overtop the tracks in the area.

Protesters have suggested they are able to stop both CPR and CN freight traffic, along with VIA passenger and GO commuter trains.

The Spectator has reached out to CN Rail and Canadian Pacific Railway for more information. CP would not say Monday if the protest had stopped any of its trains, but vowed to “monitor the situation closely.”

GO Transit was forced to cancel morning train service at its stations in Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton and West Harbour.

At Queen’s Park, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said it is up to police on the scene to handle the blockade and the injunction but said she is concerned the protesters have “put themselves in danger” by camping out along the tracks whether they are First Nations people or others joining them in sympathy.

“Frankly, legitimate or not, peoples’ lives are in danger when activists choose to go on an operating rail line and it can’t continue,” she added.

“I have no intention or interest in directing police on next steps. I think, frankly, the activity that the OPP did yesterday (at the Tyendinaga blockade east of Belleville) shows that when we leave professionals to do their job they do it well,” Jones told reporters.

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Jones urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “step up” and begin meaningful dialogue with First Nations.

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said blockades are “troublesome” but added there is no “real movement” on First Nations concerns such as ending boil water orders on reserves by providing clean water systems, helping ease youth suicides, or fix inadequate housing and health care.

“These are real issues that folks in Ontario are facing and governments are doing nothing about it, so when other people decide to join with the voices of First Nations and Indigenous people to say this is not acceptable, then I think that this is a legitimate opinion and that folks have a right to demonstrate to have their voices heard.”

Horwath said police across Canada have been trying to be “very careful” in dealing with blockades.

“We need to get closer to reconciliation rather than further away from it,” she added.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins confirmed GO trains will not try to travel to or from West Harbour station (which is on the CN line) while protesters remain near the tracks. Ongoing GO expansion work on area infrastructure is also paused.

Aikins said GO expects to post news about plans for afternoon commuter trains that would normally serve the station in the early afternoon.

The group’s Facebook post suggests the blockade is located near York Boulevard on the section of land separating Hamilton and Burlington between Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour.

Along York Boulevard, there is a cut fence leading to a brush-covered hill above where protesters are assembled.

Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, several more people joined the group of approximately 10 protesters, walking in on the tracks and climbing down the hill.

On Monday night, police were preventing anyone — both media and members of the public — from getting much closer than a half a kilometre from the blockade. What appeared to be two fires could be seen from the location where police are preventing access. Police were also walking along the tracks with flashlights.

Supporter Sonia Hill, a Mohawk woman from Six Nations, was leaving the demonstration with three other supporters voluntarily around 7:30 p.m. Monday.

She would not say how many protesters remained at the site but said “a good amount” remained. More than 15 police officers were also on the tracks, she said.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said of the police presence Monday evening.

Her message to the public is that those gathered are protecting the land and standing in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.

As actions against the Coastal GasLink pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory continue, it is useful to understand the difference between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline, and the band council members who have supported it.

“Until RCMP are actually cleared out of Wet’suwet’en land … they’ll continue to stand here in Hamilton,” she said Monday. “I’m coming back tomorrow.”

The Hamilton in Solidarity Facebook group posted a video of a campfire, urging supporters to join them — but warning people to come in groups because “there are police!” The posting suggests people slip through a guardrail fence, possibly using a rope to go down a “steep embankment.”

CP and CN rail police were on the tracks near the blockade, while Hamilton police were securing a perimeter.

In Caledonia, police are asking the public to be patient if impacted by traffic delays.

“We are monitoring and assisting with traffic control,” Const. Rodney LeClair said Monday of the police’s role at the demonstration. “Our primary goal is to preserve the peace and maintain a safe environment for everyone involved.”

The nation-wide demonstrations stem from disputes over a TransCanada pipeline in British Columbia. The northern B.C. region’s Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are insistent that the Coastal GasLink pipeline project not go ahead on their traditional territory.

With files from Rob Ferguson

TORONTO STAR