Canada ministers, indigenous chiefs propose deal to end protests

Ontario Provincial Police and First Nations protestors (pictured February 2020) sit on opposite sides of a barricade near Caledonia, Ontario that the protestors set up in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and the Tyendinaga Mohawks (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Montreal (AFP) - The Canadian government and an indigenous chief announced Sunday they had reached a tentative arrangement aimed at bringing an end to crippling blockades and protests across the country.

"We, I believe, have come to a proposed arrangement," Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told reporters, standing alongside her British Columbia counterpart and Wet'suwet'en hereditary leader Woos.

The agreement between Ottawa and the indigenous leaders is intended to resolve a long-standing dispute over a pipeline and unresolved land claims.

The Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs' vocal opposition to a natural gas pipeline cutting through their ancestral lands in northern British Columbia sparked nationwide protests in support of their plight.

Hereditary chief Woos, who also goes by the name Frank Alec, said it was "quite a milestone" -- words echoed by Bennett -- on the fourth day of meetings in British Columbia, but he added that "it is not over yet."

"We always say that we are against the pipeline that is going to our territory," Woos said.

Immediately after, pipeline developer Coastal GasLink -- which has suspended construction during the negotiations -- indicated it would start work again on Monday.

"Coastal GasLink is fully permitted and remains on track for a 2023 in-service date," president David Pfeiffer said in a statement on the company's website.

A crippling rail blockade by Mohawks east of Toronto in support of the Wet'suwet'en had shut down freight and passenger trains for 18 days.

Commuter trains in Toronto and Montreal were also disrupted.

The disruptions to rail traffic -- the backbone of Canada's transportation system, moving more than Can$250 billion ($190 billion) in goods annually -- led to supply shortages and job layoffs.

Police moved in to clear the Mohawk blockade on Monday, but that triggered more unrest, with defiant protestors lighting fires on tracks Wednesday and again Thursday -- despite warnings this could cause flammable cargo on passing trains to explode.