OTTAWA - Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the RCMP in British Columbia has offered to move its officers to a town away from the area where traditional leaders of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation have been opposing a pipeline project on their territory.
Blair said on Parliament Hill Thursday morning he believes this move meets conditions set by the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.
"I believe the time has come now for the barricades to come down," Blair said before a cabinet meeting.
"We have met the condition that those who are on the barricades had said was important to them before they would change their posture, and that work has been done, and I think quite appropriately."
The Wet'suwet'en's hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project that would bring natural gas to a liquefaction facility and export terminal on the B.C. coast, though elected band-council leaders broadly support it.
Nationwide protests and blockades followed a move by RCMP to enforce a court injunction earlier this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to the company's work site.
The hereditary chiefs have demanded the RCMP leave their traditional land and have refused to meet with federal or provincial officials until this was done.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under increasing pressure to end the blockades, with Conservatives calling for the government to use force, while the Liberal government insists negotiations are the only way to a lasting solution.
Blair said the decision to move officers away from their outpost on the traditional Wet'suwet'en territory to the nearby town of Houston was a decision made by the RCMP in B.C. and added that he agrees it was the right move.
"I'm very proud of the work that was done by the leadership of the RCMP. Their commitment to peaceful resolution of these complex issues is, I think, quite commendable and Canadians should be very proud of the work that they do," he said.
"It's moving towards a less confrontational and a more peaceable arrangement entirely appropriate to the circumstances, and I'm very hopeful that will satisfy the concerns that were raised."
In a speech in the House of Commons this morning, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said while she has not yet been able to meet with all the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in person, she has conversed with some of them and hopes to meet with them all soon to clarify a path forward.
"We are committed to finding a mutually acceptable process with them and the Wet'suwet'en nation, to sit down and address the urgent and long-term issues at hand," Bennett said.
"We hope that the Wet'suwet'en will be able to express to those in solidarity with them that it is now time for them to stand down and let us get back to work."
Four Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have travelled east and are expected to meet with members of the Mohawk Nation in Quebec and Ontario who have been protesting in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en. Mohawks at Tyendinaga, between Toronto and Montreal, have blocked a critical rail line, cutting both freight and passenger traffic with coast-to-coast ramifications.
Bennett said she would be happy to meet with the chiefs while they're in eastern Canada, but added that she is willing also to travel to B.C. to meet with them in their traditional territory if they prefer.
Meanwhile, the federal agriculture minister is indicating that help could soon be on the way for farmers impacted by the barricades that have virtually shut down Canada’s rail network.
Marie-Claude Bibeau said last year and the beginning of 2020 have been difficult for Canada’s agriculture sector.
Bibeau told reporters in Ottawa she is looking for “practical ways” to support farmers who have been unable to get their products to market as a result of the barricades. However she would not elaborate, saying she needed to speak with her cabinet colleagues first.
And Ontario Conservative MP Erin O'Toole, who is running for his party's leadership, issued a statement saying if he were prime minister, he would criminalize blocking transportation corridors and issue a blanket policy telling police to clear blockades without waiting for court orders.