Continuing blockades could backfire: Kanesatake Grand Chief

At least one Canadian First Nations leader believes the barricades that have forced part of the country’s rail system to a standstill should end, saying the point has been made.

In an interview with CTV Montreal Mohawk Council of Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said on Sunday said the country’s Indigenous people have built up a substantial amount of public goodwill and empathy in recent years and continuing the barricades could put that in jeopardy.

“It’s not just taking down the barricades,” he said. “The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs should be asked whether they want this to continue. Is this what they want? We have a real risk of eroding public good faith we’ve built up over the years where people are starting to understand First Nations and their issues.”

Groups of demonstrators who call themselves Land Defenders have erected barricades throughout Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in northern British Columbia who oppose the construction of a natural gas pipeline through their territory. That includes a group in Kahnawake who have forced the closure of the Candiac commuter train line for a week.

Simon said that while public opinion has shifted towards Indigenous people in recent years, alienating the public could have political ramifications as politicians will not feel public pressure to deal fairly with First Nations people. He said continuing the train blockades to the point that many Canadians begin feeling the economic impact could be a strategy that backfires.

“When people start looking at how this blockade is going to affect their daily lives, price of food, probably price of fuel, things are going to happen that people aren’t going to take very well,” he said. “I think the point’s been made and governments and industry will understand if they continue on this path the blockades will be brought up again. Maybe not on the rails, maybe somewhere else and this time it could be for a lot longer.”

Food prices could rise

With trains remaining at a standstill, one Canadian professort said the disruptions are starting to be felt in the economy, particularly in northern Quebec, Ontario and the Eastern provinces.

"If this situation lasts you may actually see the entire supply chain being forced to increase margins or prices just to cover the extra cost to move products around," said Sylvain Charlebois of Dalhousie University. 

Charlebois said the cost of shipping the same goods by truck can be up to 50 per cent higher than by train. That will be particularly felt in more remote areas of Quebec.

"Abitibi, Saguenay could be affected, even Ottawa because of what's going on with the rails," he said.