Chris Hall: Canada-wide pipeline protests a 'bump' on the road to reconciliation, Garneau says

Transport Minister Marc Garneau says blockades of rail lines and other protests across Canada in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs won't distract the federal government from its goal of reconciling the historic grievances of First Nations. "Let me say it this way. We are committed to righting the wrongs of 150 years or more, and I think our government has made that absolutely clear," Garneau said Friday in an interview airing today on CBC Radio's The House.

"Does that mean reconciliation is a quick, simple, straightforward process?

No. It takes time and occasionally there are bumps in the road and we have to stick to it as we move forward. And this is a bump in the road at the moment but it is not going to cause our government to waver anyway whatsoever with respect to reconciliation."

Pressure is mounting to end the blockades. CN and Via Rail cancelled freight and passenger service in Eastern Canada on Friday. The disruption is costing the economy millions of dollars, and some industry groups fear the continued uncertainty will cost them even more.

As of Friday night, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller was to meet Saturday with Mohawks blocking the main rail line between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, while Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett was to hold meeting with representatives of the Wet'suwet'en and other Indigenous leaders in B.C. Some argue those meetings should have happened before now.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should call on the RCMP to clear protests that are crippling Canada's rail network.

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Scheer: Protesters should 'check their privilege'

Erin Gowriluk is the executive director of the 65,000-member Grain Growers of Canada. She told The House that her members are already dealing with what she calls last fall's "harvest from hell," which was plagued by wet weather and difficulty obtaining propane shipments needed to dry the grain.

"We obviously hope for a peaceful resolution to the situation. But during that process, we want some assurance that while that is happening ... trains are going to be allowed to resume." Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Friday it's time for police to remove what he called the "radical activists" who are holding the economy hostage.

"These protesters, these activists may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade. But they need to check their privilege," he told reporters. "They need to check their privilege and let people whose jobs depend on the railway system, small businesses and farmers, do their jobs."

Erin Gowriluk, executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada, reflects on how this week's rail blockades -- and other rail interruptions -- are affecting Canada's farmers and this country's international reputation.

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Who enforces injunctions?

Quebec Premier Francois Legault also called on Prime Minister Trudeau to act, saying the Mohawk blockade is having a severe economic impact on his province. Garneau said any decision to enforce injunctions obtained by private companies or provinces must be made by police, not the federal government.

"Obviously, we believe in the rule of law," he said. "But at the same time, we also believe in reconciliation and dialogue." The minister also insisted that Ottawa's decision to talk led to the dismantling of blockades in B.C. and Manitoba without the kind of violence seen in previous disputes over Indigenous land claims in Oka, Quebec and Caledonia, Ontario.

Demonstrations an 'opportunity', says reconciliation advocate

Karen Joseph is the CEO of Reconciliation Canada, a non-profit group that holds workshops and promotes discussions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. She said she believes Canadians are deeply interested in reconciliation.

"The challenge is we've never been here before as a country," she told The House. "I mean, we we could look at this as an opportunity for us to really dig in and figure out, what does reconciliation look like? ... How might we be able to get these diversity of opinions and and perspectives in the room and really try to move through what are the goals and priorities of all of the interested parties in this conversation?"

Joseph said all the talk about the "rule of law" is misguided because it refers only to Canadian law, not that of Indigenous communities. "If you understand the history of Indigenous people and the rule of law in colonization, you'd recognize the offensiveness of that kind of language," she said. "It really shuts down any kind of meaningful dialogue about how we overcome this." Garneau said the federal government is committed to restoring train service everywhere.

He said the fact that barriers on rail lines in B.C. and Manitoba came down peacefully late this week was a positive sign, but acknowledged that much will depend on the outcome of Saturday's meetings.

What could this week's events mean for the Trudeau government's promise of Indigenous reconciliation?

Karen Joseph, CEO of Reconciliation Canada -- an Indigenous-led charitable organization that's developed workshops and other outreach programs aimed promoting understanding between Indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians -- weighs in.

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