Canadian businesses, government officials urge end to pipeline protests

A photograph of a train traveling through a wooded area. There are city buildings on the horizon.

Canadian businesses and government officials are urging protesters to stop blocking freight and and passenger rail lines and end a nearly weeklong protests over a proposed pipeline.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau on Wednesday asked parties involved in the protest to engage in an open dialogue that would come to a peaceful resolution over the issue, adding that police have a right to act to ensure the safety of Canadians and that protestors need to abide by the law.

Over the past week, protestors have formed human blockades along two of Canadian National’s (NYSE: CNI) routes and along passenger routes around Toronto, effectively stopping traffic and limiting access to the ports of Prince Rupert, Montreal and Halifax. The protests are in support of a First Nations group’s concerns over a proposed pipeline route in British Columbia (BC).

“The federal government is closely monitoring the protests that are disrupting rail service across our country. We are working with our provincial counterparts; ministers across our government continue to engage with their colleagues, and our officials have an open line of communication with the provinces,” Garneau said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also has asked for the protests to stop, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, businesses also have urged an end to the demonstrations, saying the blockades are hurting Canada’s supply chain. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to Garneau and Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains, said the blockades are affecting the flow of perishable foods, grain, construction materials and propane to Eastern Canada and the flow of natural resources goods such as timber, aluminum, coal and oil elsewhere.

“The disruptions we are seeing across the rail system – many of them unlawful – are impacting our ability to get raw materials to our facilities and to deliver to our customers,” said Forest Products Association of Canada President Derek Nighbor. “Some companies are now in a position that they can’t guarantee delivery dates to customers – a massive business risk and a dark cloud over Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.” 

The group Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters asked federal and provincial officers to work with law enforcement to restore freight and passenger rail service, saying the interruptions are being felt throughout the supply chain. The group estimates that manufactured goods make up about 47% of all railcars loadings in Canada and that Canadian manufacturers loaded an average of nearly 4,500 railcars per day in 2016, or 1.62 million railcars annually. 

“Redirecting shipments to other modes of transport is not a practical solution as it disrupts supply chains, delays shipments and leads to added costs or penalties for missed delivery schedules and, possibly, the loss of future business to global competitors,” the group said.

The protests started last week, after the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs of BC filed an application for a judicial review of a decision by the BC Environmental Assessment Office to extend the environmental certificate for Coastal GasLink’s proposed fracked gas pipeline in northwest BC by another five years.

Canadian National (CN) said on Tuesday that the blockades are near Belleville, Ontario, CN’s only eastern link between western and eastern Canada and the U.S. Midwest, and also on CN’s northern mainline in BC between Prince George and Prince Rupert. As a result of the demonstrations, CN obtained court injunction orders for two blocked locations, and the railway is working with local enforcement agencies to enforce the orders.

CN also said it could be forced to shut down portions of its network if the blockades continue.