OTTAWA - Quebec's premier says he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to issue an ultimatum to protesters to take down within days blockades that have disrupted rail and road traffic across the country.
Francois Legault said Wednesday that if the deadline is not respected, co-ordinated police action could be necessary to restore transportation links and end what he called an illegal action threatening people's jobs.
“Yes we have to respect and listen to Indigenous nations, but we also have to listen to Quebecers and Canadians who are suffering right now,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “There are jobs at stake. This blockade, which is illegal, really must be ended.”
Legault said he will attempt to rally counterparts in other provinces to his position Wednesday afternoon during a conference call of Canada's premiers convened by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.
The demonstrations disrupting transportation are in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline through their territory in northern British Columbia.
Legault said the blockades need to come down within “days not weeks,” and he is not ruling out police action if the protesters refuse. He called on Trudeau “to set a deadline and tell the protesters, if it is not taken down by this time, we will have to act, and we will act in all provinces.”
Moe announced the premiers' meeting Tuesday night, saying on Twitter it is needed because the blockades have been up for almost two weeks and Trudeau has “offered no course of action to protect the economic interests of our nation.”
Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters CEO Dennis Darby has said the crisis is stranding an estimated $425 million in goods every day the blockade continues.
Meanwhile, near the remote site of the Coastal GasLink pipeline at the heart of the crisis, a small, mobile RCMP detachment has become a bargaining chip in proposed talks that many hope could put an end to the blockades.
The federal minister in charge of Indigenous relations has proposed a meeting with the Wet'suwet'en chiefs opposing the pipeline to diffuse the situation.
However, a hereditary chief representing one of 13 Wet'suwet'en house groups, said they won't meet with Carolyn Bennett and her B.C. counterpart Scott Fraser until the RCMP detachment is removed.
Chief Woos accuses the RCMP of acting as “bullies,” and says all hereditary chiefs are in agreement.
RCMP say in a statement they are aware of the request and discussions are underway on next steps, while Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said during an emergency debate Tuesday that “there is a clear path forward.”
Woos, who also goes by Frank Alec, said they'll start talking about meeting with politicians when the chiefs' message gets through to the RCMP.
The detachment is located off a forest service road where 28 people were arrested this month when RCMP enforced an injunction on behalf of Coastal GasLink, which is building a natural gas pipeline through the area.
“Pick up everything and go, and do not return,” Woos said.
While the RCMP have said their major operations in the region have concluded, they have also said the mobile unit will remain in place and they'll continue “patrols of the corridor to ensure everyone's safety.”
Although 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline have signed agreements with the company, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say the project has no authority without their consent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.