First Nations protest shuts down rail lines for over seven hours
Joshua Freeman, cp24.com
Published Saturday, January 5, 2013 6:08PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 6, 2013 12:43AM EST
A First Nations blockade that brought four Via Rail passenger trains to a halt for over seven hours finally ended just before midnight Saturday.
OPP confirmed to CP24 that protesters left the tracks in Marysville around 11:50 p.m. after blocking trains for the second weekend in a row.
Around 5 p.m. protesters set up a blockade on the tracks, stopping trains carrying people to and from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Earlier in the evening Via Rail said it had no idea how long the blockade would last.
“We have a very effective contingency plan in place,” Via Rail spokesperson Jacques Gagnon told CP24 in a phone interview. “We’re hoping for as minimal delays as possible.”
He said 20 buses had been deployed to carry passengers affected by the protest.
By around 7:30 p.m. a long line of passengers waiting to board a 6:35 p.m. train to Ottawa at Union Station had been ushered onto buses.
Via Rail said customers wishing to cancel or change their itineraries would be able to do so at no extra charge.
Ontario Provincial Police told CP24 Highway 2 was also closed off in the area. They said that officers are on scene at the rail protest and that it appeared to be peaceful.
“The OPP respects everyone’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” an OPP spokesperson said in an email Saturday night. “The OPP recognizes the rights of the general public, local residents and businesses to a safe environment. Our role is to ensure public safety, enforce the law and keep the peace.”
Gagnon said more than 1,000 passengers on four trains were delayed because of the protest. But he said Via Rail was prepared for the latest blockade because the OPP issued a travel advisory Friday. The company said last week they had been caught off guard by protesters.
On Dec. 30, a dozen or so Native protesters blocked 12 trains and 2,500 passengers for nearly four hours as they staged a protest on the rail lines in the same area. Hundreds of people also participated in a flash mob demonstration at The Eaton Centre downtown. Aboriginal protesters have been staging demonstrations across the country in recent weeks as part of Idle No More, a grassroots movement seeking to draw attention to the plight of aboriginal communities in Canada. The movement scored a victory recently when hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence managed to secure a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and aboriginal leaders.
A bridge to the U.S. was also blocked in Cornwall for several hours Saturday as aboriginal people held a protest.
OPP had threatened to charge the rail protesters with mischief. As of late Saturday night, it was not clear whether any charges had been laid. Police said an investigation is ongoing, but no one was arrested.
It was not clear whether protesters would attempt to stage another blockade Sunday.
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