Canada's main passenger-rail service is feeling the effects of a dispute in B.C. between Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and the provincial government.
The B.C. NDP government renewed the environmental assessment certificate for the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, which will be built across unceded traditional Wet'suwet'en territory.
After the RCMP started making arrests on February 6 to enforce a B.C. Supreme Court injunction obtained by the company, Wet'suwet'en Nation sympathizers started staging direct actions that Canada's rail network.
That led to today's Via Rail announcement that close to 1,000 employees will receive temporary layoff notices.
“This general interruption is an unprecedented situation in our history. In 42 years of existence, it is the first time that VIA Rail, a public intercity passenger rail service, has to interrupt most of its services across the country,” Via Rail president and CEO Cynthia Garneau said in a news release. “Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been closely working with the infrastructure owner in order to formulate a progressive, safe and orderly resumption plan.
"We have done everything to mitigate the impact on our employees and our passengers. At this point, we believe we have made the fairest and most reasonable decision with the proposed temporary suspension plan."
Via Rail will resume partial service between Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa on Thursday (February 20). In addition, service will resume between Toronto, Sarnia, Windsor, London, and Niagara Falls on that day.
But until CN Rail opens its tracks, Via Rail cannot run trains anywhere else except on the CP Rail line between Sudbury and White River and the Hudson Bay Railway line between Churchill and The Pas.
Meanwhile, the executive director of Greenpeace Canada, Christy Ferguson, has said that the "peaceful measures of conscience" by the hereditary chiefs' allies reflect the depth of the B.C. and provincial governments' neglect of its duty to uphold Indigenous rights.
"Now, as governments drag their heels in righting those wrongs, workers are also feeling the effects of leaders' reconciliation failures," Ferguson declared in a statement. "We call on Prime Minister Trudeau to act immediately to resolve the situation by ensuring RCMP units are withdrawn from Wet'suwet'en territory and committing to respect Wet'suwet'en law."