Demonstrators opposed to a Canadian energy project on Wednesday started blocking a western rail line, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to solve a two-week protest that is harming the economy.
Freight traffic in eastern Canada has been stopped after campaigners blockaded a main line in Ontario. They say they want to show solidarity with an aboriginal band trying to stop construction of a gas pipeline in the Pacific province of British Columbia.
Trudeau, who insists his government will not use force against the protesters, toughened his language on Wednesday, calling the disruptions unacceptable.
A group of around 20 people blocked a Canadian National Railway Co rail line near Edmonton, the capital of the western province of Alberta.
“They’re on the CN property, and we’re working with the CN police to resolve it,” local police spokesman Barry Maron told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Television footage showed the group standing on the rails behind a banner that read “No pipelines on stolen land.” The company said it was assessing legal options.
The blockades pose a delicate challenge for Trudeau, who says one of his main priorities is to improve relations with Canada’s marginalized and impoverished indigenous population.
“This government is working extremely hard to resolve this situation. We know people are facing shortages, they’re facing disruptions, they’re facing layoffs – that’s unacceptable,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.
His tone was noticeably harsher than in a speech he gave to legislators on Tuesday in which he stressed the importance of “dialogue and mutual respect.”
Canada’s main opposition parties say the federal government should send in police to clear the blockades, which are also hitting Quebec, Canada’s second most populous province.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault on Wednesday demanded Trudeau come up with a timetable to end the blockades.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa Editing by Matthew Lewis)