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February 20, 2020 4:00 PM, EST

Canadian Minister Sees Progress on Rail Blockades

Demonstrators stand at a rail blockade during a protest in Ontario on Feb. 13.Demonstrators stand at a rail blockade during a protest in Ontario on Feb. 13. (Brett Gundlock/Bloomberg News)

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s public safety minister said police are withdrawing from the First Nation protest site at heart of demonstrations that have paralyzed Canada’s railways.

Environmental and indigenous-rights activists have blocked rail lines in several provinces, protesting the construction of TC Energy Corp.’s planned C$6.6 billion ($5 billion) Coastal GasLink pipeline. The pipeline is meant to ship natural gas to an LNG export facility under construction on the coast of British Columbia that is backed by Royal Dutch Shell, PetroChina Co. and three other partners.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police “have agreed to continue to serve the area but by locating their people in a nearby town,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters the morning of Feb. 19 on his way into a cabinet meeting in Ottawa. RCMP’s presence on Wet’suwet’en territory has been a key point of contention in the dispute, which is in its third week.

Blair said he believes “the condition that the people said was the reason for the barricades has now been met.” He added: “I think now the circumstances are such that those barricades should come down.”

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The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs — some of whom are meeting Feb. 20 with allied Mohawk leaders in Quebec and Ontario to map out a common strategy — have yet to respond to the move by police. But the government describes it as an olive branch and is hopeful it will be accepted.

“The step that was made by the B.C. RCMP was significant,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said after the cabinet meeting.

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