TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has canceled his planned trip to Barbados to help resolve widespread rail disruptions caused by indigenous rights activists opposing the construction of a natural gas pipeline, his office said on Sunday.
Indigenous communities across Canada have been blocking some key railway lines for nearly two weeks in protest against the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, which has forced Canada’s biggest railroad, Canadian National Railway Co, to shut operations in eastern Canada.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who held talks with some indigenous communities on Saturday, told a talk show on Sunday the unrest and its impact on the economy amounted to a national crisis.
“Following the government’s ongoing efforts to address infrastructure disruptions across the country, the Prime Minister will convene the Incident Response Group tomorrow to discuss steps forward,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement.
The C$6.6 billion ($4.97 billion) pipeline at the heart of the dispute would move natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to the Pacific Coast, where the liquefied natural gas Canada export facility led by Royal Dutch Shell Plc is under construction. The pipeline will be operated by TC Energy Corp.
In December, private equity firm KKR & Co Inc and Alberta Investment Management Corp agreed to buy a majority stake in Coastal GasLink.
The protests were sparked by the arrests of people opposing the pipeline’s construction on traditional land of the Wet’suwet’en community. Some 28% of the 670-km (420-mile) route passes through Wet’suwet’en lands.
The most damaging protest is near Belleville in Ontario, the most-populous Canadian province. Canadian National has won court injunctions to end the action but the Ontario Provincial Police, responsible for enforcing the measures, has so far not acted.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported on Saturday that at least 66 shipping vessels were stalled in British Columbia’s waters because of rail blockades.
Trudeau was set to attend the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Barbados this week. Instead, Canada will be represented by Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, the statement added.
(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Peter Cooney)