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Canadian police clear indigenous protest; tensions remain

TORONTO — Canadian police cleared an indigenous rail blockade in Ontario on Monday that has crippled freight and passenger rail traffic in most of eastern Canada for three weeks but tensions remained.

Ontario Provincial Police arrested 10 protesters on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ontario, east of Toronto. CN Rail later issued a brief statement saying the company was pleased the “illegal blockade” had come to an end.

Police spokesman Bill Dickson said the protesters had pulled back from the rail tracks and a second encampment set up nearby by demonstrators remained in place. Tires were seen burning in that location Monday morning.

Protesters abandoned a barricade in Quebec over the weekend.

Demonstrators have set up blockades in British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec in solidarity with opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northwestern British Columbia.

Hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation oppose the work on their traditional territory, despite support from its elected council. The hereditary chiefs said in a statement they condemned the use of force.

But Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said: “The impact of these rail disruptions is untenable. It can’t continue.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the indigenous barricades had to come down. Trudeau called the situation unacceptable and said every attempt at dialogue had been made over the last two weeks.

Via Rail, Canada’s passenger train service, said last week it was temporarily laying off 1,000 employees due to the continued halt in service on CN Rail’s tracks in eastern Canada caused by the blockades. CN Rail also announced 450 temporary layoffs.

The crisis is daily stranding goods worth an estimated 425 million Canadian dollars ($340 million), according to the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters trade group.

Trudeau has made reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations a priority for his government, but the blockades threatened to risk public support and have led to backlogs at Canada’s three biggest ports.

The use of force angered Indigenous leaders.

“Today’s arrests of First Nations activists at Tyendinaga shows once again that we will never achieve reconciliation through force,” Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a statement.