Over two dozen protesters set up barricades on two rail lines running through Sumas, Matsqui and Abbotsford, as a response to the RCMP arrests on Wet’suwet’en and Tyendinaga territory.
The blockade was set up around 10 p.m. Monday on Vye Road between Riverside Road and Sumas Way. The protesters camped out overnight, bringing supplies and lighting a small campfire to stay warm. The protesters did not shut down traffic along Vye Road.
Protesters, carrying signs reading “Shut Down Canada” and “We stand with the Wet’suwet’en,” represented several different organizations, including Red Braid Extinction Rebellion and the University of Fraser Valley’s Global Development Studies Club.
Darien Johnsen, a UFV student in the Global Development Studies Club, said the barricades were partly a response to the recent RCMP arrests around the country.
“I think [the arrests] just made the situation worse, and it made a lot more people want to get out and let the RCMP and the Canadian government know that their response to the blockade was wrong. They’re just doing the exact same thing they are doing at the Wet’suwet’en camp,” Johnsen said. “The combination of all these arrests of these Indigenous land defenders … heightened the stakes.
“It’s spurred a lot more people to take direct action.”
The CN rail blockade in Abbotsford, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en and Tyendinaga, made it through the night. The sun is rising, but our fire is dying. Wood, food, and hot drinks would be appreciated! #wetsuwetenstrong #tyendinagastrong pic.twitter.com/dpOeEsSDeT— Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism (@stopdisplacemnt) February 25, 2020
The rail blockade in Abbotsford, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en and Tyendinega struggles for sovereignty, is still holding strong. Which side are you on?#wetsuwetenstrong #tyendinagastrong #shutdowncanada #reconciliationisdead pic.twitter.com/Ssb23H0yEK— Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism (@stopdisplacemnt) February 25, 2020
A mix of around 10 Abbotsford Police officers and CP officers were on site around 8 a.m. Tuesday, observing from across the street. But only a couple police vehicles were on scene. By around 12:30 p.m., the blockade had cleared, according to the Abbotsford Police Department
The group originally set up blockades on a CP Rail line in Maple Ridge along the Haney Bypass, but moved to Abbotsford after they were forced to leave after three hours.
Abbotsford MP Ed Fast said the protesters, while they are allowed to voice opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, were acting illegally by setting up the blockade.
“I believe that one of the most important pillars of a free and democratic society is a commitment to respecting the rule of law,” Fast said. “Although all Canadians have the right to protest peacefully to publicly express their views on important public issues, deliberately defying the law is something I cannot – and will not – defend.
“I encourage the opponents of this project to protest in a safe and responsible manner and in accordance with the law. The residents of Abbotsford expect nothing less.”
But the protesters were taking action over the Canadian government’s incursion into Indigenous territory, Johnsen said. She said the pipeline is a different, although connected, issue.
“The divide between the elected and hereditary chiefs, it’s not an easy decision … But this is really about respecting Indigenous sovereignty,” Johnsen said. “Respecting the fact that the Wet’suwet’en Nation is trying to reclaim their traditional form of government … that’s been stripped from them.
“This isn’t a citizen-versus-citizen issue. This is a human rights issue.”
Johnsen said people criticizing their blockade have misconceptions about the reasons behind the protest.
“People are underestimating how much we know about the situation. A lot of us have been following the Wet’suwet’en crisis for quite awhile now. I think we’re more educated on this than people think we are.”