OTTAWA — Dozens of pipeline protesters delayed an appearance by the prime minister in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon, drumming and chanting in a government building where Justin Trudeau was set to speak.
Police kept the prime minister and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna out of a Sussex Drive building in Ottawa where Trudeau was to address a forum bringing together federal officials and representatives from self-governing First Nations that have modern treaties with the Crown.
The protesters expressed anger about the RCMP’s intervention in a blockade in northern British Columbia, enforcing an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court. The injunction is to remove anyone who interferes with a Coastal GasLink pipeline project in and around the Morice River Bridge.
Members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have set up a camp and a checkpoint southwest of Houston, B.C., on a forest-service road that leads to a pipeline construction site.
Coastal GasLink says it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the route but demonstrators say Wet’suwet’en house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected, have not given consent. The RCMP broke their blockade Monday night, sparking the protests.
Trudeau’s address was subsequently moved to another government building close to Parliament Hill later Tuesday.
“In this government, you have a partner willing to figure out the path forward that is right for each of you, and eventually right for every Indigenous person in this country,” Trudeau told the Indigenous leaders who’d moved to the new venue with him. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be done quickly.”
But Trudeau said the leadership exemplified by those gathered at the forum gave him confidence in what can be accomplished in the coming years.
NDP reconciliation critic Romeo Saganash joined demonstrators on Parliament Hill on Tuesday before the group marched through downtown Ottawa streets with signs, including a large red one reading: “RCMP Off Wet’suwet’en Land.”
“The justification that was used for this intervention is pretty lame in my view,” Saganash told reporters. “We all know in 2019 that the Wet’suwet’en have title and rights to their territory.”
He also said he is “pretty disappointed” by the silence of many politicians, including his own colleagues, both provincially and federally.
Saganash said did not hear back from the provincial and federal Indigenous-affairs ministers he asked to help alleviate tension in northern B.C. prior to the arrests by the Mounties.
The federal government has a responsibility to Indigenous Peoples in Canada, Saganash added.
“We are bound by the rule of law in this country,” he said. “What the rule of law means is not sending in the police. The rule of law means is respecting the Constitution and in that Constitution is Section 35, Aboriginal rights and treaty rights.”
Tarek Hassan of Ottawa said he closed his food business on Tuesday to participate in the demonstration.
“The RCMP’s actions yesterday crossed a serious line,” Hassan said. “All Canadians should be saying something, should be doing something, when they see this kind of assault on Indigenous sovereignty.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office repeated its previous remarks on Tuesday, saying the federal government is committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
“The RCMP respects and protects the right to peaceful demonstrations as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” it said.
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Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press