Blocked railway threatening economy, jobs: port authority says

A protest blocking the CN Rail lines at New Hazelton is threatening the economy of northern B.C., according to Prince Rupert Port Authority president Shaun Stevenson.

Stevenson gave an interview to CBC Daybreak North on Wednesday, but didn't respond to a request for comment from The Citizen.

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“Already yesterday a number of terminals ceased operation," Stevenson told the CBC in a quote shared on the port authority's Facebook page. "Without trains moving, there is lots of concern we’re starting to hear in the community, and it’s important to understand where we come from... there are 6,000 jobs that are involved in the transportation system, that are in Prince Rupert but also in places like Terrace, Smithers, and across northern B.C., and all of those jobs are reliant on the reliability and the service that the Port of Prince Rupert has developed over the last number of years...We’re hopeful that a peaceful resolution can be reached and we can get back to operating.”

In an email Wednesday, a spokesperson for VIA Rail said all passenger rail service between Prince George and Prince Rupert is cancelled until further notice.

"VIA Rail is processing full refunds for the cancelled trips automatically which could take up to 10 days due to the volume of transactions," the emailed statement said. "This refund applies to all services affected by the blockades as well as related connections.

VIA Rail passengers can call 1-888-VIA-RAIL for the latest information.

VIA did not provide information about the number of passengers affected on the Prince George to Prince Rupert line, however another protest in Belleville, Ont. disrupted traffic between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, prompting the cancellation of 223 trains and impacting 34,200 passengers as of 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the VIA Rail statement said.

Protests in New Hazelton and Belleville began on Feb. 6, according to a statement issued on Tuesday by CN Rail.

"The blockades near Belleville... and on CN's northern mainline in B.C. between Prince George and Prince Rupert are impacting all Canadians' ability to move goods and enable trade," the CN Rail statement said. "Hundreds of trains have been cancelled since the blockades began... The impact is also being felt beyond Canada's borders and is harming the country's reputation as a stable and viable supply chain partner."

CN Rail president J.J. Ruest said the blockades are stopping companies from shipping goods like lumber, aluminum, grain and other commodities.

"Factories and mines will soon be faced with very difficult decisions. The Port of Prince Rupert is effectively already shutdown," Ruest said. "We have obtained court injunctions for both locations and we are working with local enforcement agencies to enforce the orders."

A spokesperson for CN Rail said the company had no further comment on the issue in an email on Wednesday. Neither CN Rail or North District RCMP responded to The Citizen's requests for comment regarding the potential enforcement of a court injunction to remove protesters blocking the rail line in New Hazelton.

The protests in New Hazelton and Belleville are in support of eight Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters who were blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline through their traditional territory from Jan. 3 until Thursday when RCMP began enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction to remove them. On Tuesday the RCMP completed their enforcement and reopened the Morice West Forest Service Road and Morice River Bridge, which had been barricaded by Wet'suwet'en supporters.

On Wednesday, two Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs launched a constitutional challenge in B.C. court against the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline project. The $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline will feed the $40 billion liquefied natural gas export terminal under construction by LNG Canada in Kitimat.

On Thursday at 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. a screening of Invasion, an 18-minute mini-documentary about the ongoing dispute, will be held at UNBC's Canfor Theatre (Room 6-213).

A #ShutdownCanada rally is planned in front of the Prince George RCMP detachment on Victoria Street on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.

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