Protesters leave rail tracks south of Montreal; some train service resumes
Published Friday, February 21, 2020 6:44AM EST Last Updated Saturday, February 22, 2020 7:59PM EST
MONTREAL -- As of Saturday morning CN trains were rolling on tracks south of Montreal that had been barricaded until the previous day and commuter rail service is expected to resume on Monday morning.
According to Exo, commuter rail service will be back to its regular schedule at 5:45 a.m. on that day. Via Rail service between Montreal and Ottawa has also resumed, though no information was offered as to when service between Montreal and Quebec City would return.
Service on the Candiac commuter rail line remains closed due to a barricade in Kahnawake.
On Friday protesters that had blocked the St-Lambert tracks struck down their campsite and left the tracks. Longueuil police maintained a presence at the site on Saturday to dissuade protesters from re-establishing the barricade.
"Whether or not the colonial police dismantle this blockade violently ... others will grow in its place," the protesters, who had been blocking the tracks since Wednesday, said in a brief statement to journalists at the scene before dismantling their banners and beginning to leave the area. They called for others to support the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, to shut down bridges and other railways.
They walked off the site to the cheers of a nearby demonstration that had cropped up Friday evening in support of the protesters. After they left, a loader truck began clearing debris, snow and trash that the protesters had left on the tracks.
There were no arrests. Longueuil police said in a tweet that the protesters had cooperated and left peacefully.
Earlier, police surrounded the camp, raising the spectre of an intervention to forcibly remove them from the tracks. Officers blocked access to the site, ostensibly preventing the protesters from receiving supplies like firewood and food. Small groups of police met with the protesters, trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the blockade, the officers said.
A bailiff on Thursday night served the protesters with an injunction demanding they dismantle their barricades and leave. The injunction granted to CN Rail by Superior Court Justice France Dulude authorized "any police services or peace officers" to assist the company in executing the order.
Some journalists at the scene tweeted Friday afternoon that they had been moved back beyond police tape, and suspected police would intervene imminently, but there was no direct intervention.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the barricades must come down, insisting that "the law must be upheld." But Trudeau did not go as far as to instruct police to take action.
The St-Lambert blockade has snarled commuter train service to Mont-Saint-Hilaire, south of Montreal, for two straight days. It has also interrupted Via Rail service between Montreal and Quebec City and freight service.
"We are not interested in talking to the media about a possible police intervention," one of the protesters told The Canadian Press Friday morning. "This is an insignificant detail in the fight, it interests journalists only."
About 100 protesters initially built snowbanks on the CN track where it crosses Saint-Georges Street, near the intersection of Highways 116, 112 and 134.
Many of them have refused to identify themselves, saying "the cause goes far beyond the individuals; our identity is anecdotal, we are here to listen to the Wet'suwet'en."
The group is demonstrating in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs of northern British Columbia, who oppose the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory. However, elected chiefs along the pipeline’s route support the project.
"I am a settler," said Hannah Morrow, one of the demonstrators told CTV News on Wednesday. "If I get arrested doing something like this, that's nothing compared with what other Indigenous people go through in this country all the time."
Railway blockades across the country have caused widespread passenger and cargo train delays and cancellations. Via Rail, which relies on CN’s tracks, has cancelled most of its service nationwide, and business leaders have expressed grave concerns about the economic toll of the shutdown.
-- with files from The Canadian Press.