By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Nationwide blockades and protests over the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia are hurting the cause of reconciliation with Indigenous people, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Friday.
“What some of the people who have gone overboard in these blockades have done is they’ve weakened the case of reconciliation, not helped it,” Pallister said.
“They’ve shifted some public view against some of the things that I’ve been working for.”
Protesters shut down a major Canadian National rail line west of Winnipeg for about 24 hours this week.
Pallister has called for the blockades to be ended quickly so that railways and roads can be reopened. In a fundraising email he sent to Progressive Conservative supporters on Thursday titled “These illegal blockades,” Pallister also asked for donations to fight what he called “two-tier justice.”
“We will stand up for the freedoms and rights of all people. But we won’t stand back while two-tier justice happens in our province,” the email read.
“And we won’t hesitate to seek an injunction in the future, if (a blockade in Manitoba) happens again.”
Manitoba’s opposition parties accused Pallister of inflaming the situation with his choice of words. Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said phrases such as “two-tier justice” in this context are racist.
“It was a racist bullhorn, as far as I’m concerned,” Lamont said.
“He’s leaning into the very serious politics of division and verging on hate-mongering.”
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he doesn’t feel Pallister is racist, but rather is pitting Indigenous and non-Indigenous people against each other for political gain.
Pallister said his words were not racist and were referring to a distinction between people who obey the law and people who do not. The protesters included many non-Indigenous people, he noted.
“I don’t think we want a society where some people are putting themselves above the law with no consequence. That’s what two-tier justice systems might do and that’s a danger to all of us.”
While Pallister has promised a swift crackdown on any future blockades in Manitoba, the opposition parties have called for dialogue.
“I want to see trains moving again but I also want to see Indigenous rights respected,” Kinew said.
“And it’s my role as a leader to … try and urge people that I know towards what I think is a good resolution, and that will come through negotiation and dialogue.”
The blockades on train tracks across the country have forced Via Rail to stop passenger service in most areas. But Via was still operating Friday on a line owned by Hudson Bay Railway between The Pas and Churchill in northern Manitoba.
Service also continued on a line owned by Canadian Pacific Railway in northern Ontario between Sudbury and White River.