ST-LAMBERT, QUE.—Protesters at a rail blockade south of Montreal began dismantling their encampment Friday night after a contingent of riot police officers arrived to enforce a court injunction.
They took downs tents and carried items such as sleeping bags, pots, propane tanks and a wood stove to the edge of a security perimeter established earlier in the day by Longueuil municipal police.
The protesters, who since Wednesday have been blocking the rail line in a show of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia, said they planned to make a declaration later Friday. Their appeal for supporters to demonstrate near the blockade site in St-Lambert, Que., drew more than 50 people.
Emotions flared earlier in the day as the more than two dozen protesters dug in next to Canadian National Railway tracks, despite being served with an injunction Thursday ordering that the site be cleared. Quebec Premier François Legault called for the injunction to be enforced “rapidly.”
Police officers arrived in large number Friday afternoon near the encampment. There were several rounds of talks between police and the masked protesters, and though the impasse continued, some people chose to leave.
The blockade has interrupted freight traffic as well as passenger service for suburban commuters and Via Rail travellers.
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that would carry natural gas to the B.C. coast, though others in the community support the project.
Countrywide protests and blockades have followed a move by the RCMP to enforce a court injunction this month against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who had been obstructing an access road to a Coastal GasLink work site.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday called the blockades around the country unacceptable and untenable and said they have to come down.
“Let us be clear: all Canadians are paying the price. Some people can’t get to work, others have lost their jobs,” Trudeau said. “Essential goods … cannot get where they need to go.”
Jean-Yves Lessard, who joined the protesters on Friday morning, said Trudeau’s government was to blame.
“If they had done what they needed to at the beginning, people wouldn’t be here,” he fumed to reporters.
“Sadly, it’s bad for the economy and business, but it’s not them you should be angry with. Tell Trudeau to go and sit down with the hereditary chiefs.”
Legault said he would leave it to police to enforce the injunction, but he hoped the blockade would be removed soon.
“We need these tracks for transporting cargo, to avoid job losses, to avoid losses for companies,” he told reporters. “The law has to be respected, and obviously I hope it is done in an orderly fashion.”
The premier estimated losses to the provincial economy due to the rail blockades at up to $100 million a day.
Denis Bisson, who owns a company north of Montreal selling slate flooring and countertops, stopped by the blockade Friday. He said he depends on the rail line to supply his business with raw materials from a quarry in Nova Scotia. Switching to flatbed trucks would quadruple the cost per load, he said.
“I’m afraid it’s going to last two or three weeks, and I’m beginning to be out of stock in my yard,” he said, holding a sign that read in French “hostage for one day or every day?!”
A protester told him they were standing up for Indigenous rights and the environment.
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“But they are hitting people that have nothing to do with that,” Bisson said. “They’re making people pay for something that we’re not involved in.”
The St-Lambert protesters previously said they would continue to block the railway until the RCMP leaves the Wet’suwet’en territory.
The injunction granted to CN Thursday by Superior Court Justice France Dulude authorized “any police services or peace officers” to assist the company in executing the order in St-Lambert.