Blockade protests show signs of falling into cycle of crackdown and escalation

0
20
Blockade protests show signs of falling into cycle of crackdown and escalation

Indigenous demonstrators and their allies blocked new rail lines, highways and other critical infrastructure points Tuesday — including the Port of Vancouver — as protests that began in a tiny B.C. community months ago once again grew and spread to new sites all over the country.

The demonstrations, sparked by opposition to a proposed B.C. gas line, have already become the defining challenge of Justin Trudeau’s still-young second term as prime minister. The blockades and related protests have exposed a seemingly impossible line Trudeau must walk — to satisfy critics and allies alike — between climate change action, Indigenous reconciliation and the development of new oil and gas infrastructure.

To make things worse for Trudeau, the protests this week have shown signs of settling into an intractable cycle of crackdown and escalation. Members of the Ontario Provincial Police forcibly cleared out a Mohawk demonstration along the CN rail line at Tyendenaga, near Belleville, Ontario, Monday. On Tuesday, in response, allied protestors occupied and blocked commuter rail lines into and out of Toronto and Hamilton during both the morning and evening commutes, forcing transport agencies to shut down several lines and delay or reroute thousands of passengers. While the protest in Hamilton “peacefully” disbanded early on Tuesday evening, a new one already popped up near train tracks in Etobicoke in Toronto’s west end.


A protester is taken into custody by police on Feb. 25 at a blockade that cut off access to the Port of Vancouver for nearly 24 hours.

Video grab/Adam Foster/Postmedia

Those blockades were only a few of the many that have popped up across Canada since the OPP raid Monday. In Vancouver, demonstrators seized an intersection leading into the busy commercial port Monday afternoon. They remained in place until police forced them out late Tuesday.

In northern B.C., police arrested 14 people, including two hereditary Gitxsan chiefs, Monday night after they set up a new blockade on a rail line north of Smithers. In Victoria, meanwhile, Indigenous youth occupied the steps of the B.C. Legislature in solidarity with the protests.

Across the country, on Tuesday morning, demonstrators descended on a rail line in Sherbrooke, Quebec, about 150 kilometres east of Montreal. About 20 people, their faces covered, blocked the tracks and put up signs saying they were supporting the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en First Nation in their fight against the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.


Protestors block the CN rail lines heading out of Hamilton, Ont., on Feb. 25, 2020.

Jack Boland/Postmedia

In Montreal, several hundred people took to the streets in support of the those protests, while outside the city, Mohawk demonstrators temporarily blocked the highway at Kanesatake, near one of the key sites of the 1990 Oka crisis, according to CBC.

By Tuesday evening, the protests across the country had entered a phase somewhere between whack-a-mole and a game of high-stakes chicken. Police, armed with court injunctions, were clearing out or had announced plans to clear out blockades and demonstrations in three provinces.

But for every blockade cleared so far, several new ones have appeared. They’re fuelled in part by outrage over the images of officers tackling and dragging away protestors that appear online after every new enforcement.


Protestors block a highway in Caledonia, Ont., on Feb. 25, 2020.

Jack Boland/Postmedia

For now, the strategy seems to be: Crack down on one, inspire another and just hope the other side runs out of patience first. It remains to be seen how successful that gambit will be. It isn’t yet clear how deep and how broad the appetite for mass protest is in this country — by both those doing the protesting and those inconvenienced by it.

It seems unlikely that the specific demonstrations over the Coastal Gaslink pipeline will peter out and disappear anytime soon. Those are tied not only to the specific project but also to decades of debate and battles over Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en sovereignty and governance in B.C.

But in the rest of the country, on the rail lines of Ontario, on the highways of Quebec and the waterways of Vancouver, the copycat protests could still build into something lasting. It remains likely that they will fade away. Mass protest can be ephemeral and is almost always impossible to sustain. The question, though, is whether this one is the exception to that rule.

— With files from Reuters and the Canadian Press

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here