Canada must learn to avoid conflict behind railway blockades

Our latest so-called national crisis has led to calls for police to arrest protesters and tear down rail blockades, but perhaps we should be thinking about how to prevent conflicts like this from happening in the first place.

There’s no denying the real effects the rail blockades have on farmers. Ships currently waiting in port put 2020 on track to match the disastrous winter of 2013-14 for grain shipments. Farmers and other small businesses are caught in the middle, just as they are when unions and employers can’t reach agreements.

However, suggesting trains being stopped for a few weeks is a “national crisis,” as Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and others have stated, overstates the issue and undermines instances of true crises where imminent danger is threatening or present.

It can also encourage inflammatory, knee-jerk reactions from those involved. It is difficult to imagine anything less helpful when it comes to finding a solution for the country’s current predicament with the rail blockades.

Vigilantes who take the law into their own hands by attempting to remove a blockade only embolden the protesters to make their next barricade stronger.

Both actions are illegal, discrediting the “rule of law” argument that the protests should end. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

At the heart of the protests is the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs in British Columbia who oppose the Coastal Gaslink project travelling through their traditional territory.

Of course, wanting urgent action to get trains moving is a reasonable request, given that five of the six band councils making up the Wet’suwet’en Nation support the pipeline’s construction, along with 20 other First Nations’ band councils.

But there must be a recognition from all involved that a deep breath with a side of good thinking is needed, in spite of the still-untold number of economic losses arising from weeks of grain trains being cancelled and passengers unable to travel.

Perhaps some of that good thinking can consider how a relatively small group of people can threaten the country’s economy in such a direct way, and how to prevent it from happening again.

In short, the goal of protesting is to inconvenience people to gain attention for a particular cause.

According to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, the official organization representing the hereditary chiefs, there are seven chiefs listed.

While there are varying reports on the number of hereditary chiefs (some reporting suggests there are as many as 13), a small group of people is demonstrating how easy it is to mobilize supporters and significantly demobilize the day-to-day lives of thousands of Canadians, including farmers nervously wondering how their grain will get shipped.

Having RCMP officers crash-and-bang away the protesters only bolsters support for the protesters’ actions.

Canadians have an opportunity to instead turn this so-called national crisis into a national epiphany by recognizing the need for reconciliation with First Nations communities.

Perhaps the First Nations fuelling the protest can in turn recognize the need for democratic decision-making and rule of law within Canada.

Genuinely listening to concerns and taking steps to address them is needed.

Also needed is acknowledgement of the cost to those who have done nothing to cause the standoff, but find themselves caught in the crossfire.

Should farmers be mad at the protesters or should their anger be focused at the governments behind the systemic injustices that give rise to these sorts of protests?

Unfortunately for farmers, they are left to suffer from the actions of both.

About the author

explore

Stories from our other publications