Trudeau says indigenous groups must end crippling rail blockades

(FILES) This file photo taken June 20, 2019 in British Columbia, Canada shows anti-pipeline graffiti; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on indigenous groups to end a crippling rail blockage that targets a pipeline project there (AFP Photo/Jason Redmond)

Ottawa (AFP) - Crippling blockades of key Canadian rail arteries "must now come down," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday, acknowledging that attempts at dialogue to end two weeks of indigenous protests had failed.

"The situation as it currently stands is unacceptable and untenable," Trudeau told a press conference in Ottawa.

"The barricades must now come down. The injunctions (against protesters) must be obeyed and the law must be upheld," he said, opening the door to police moving in to clear the blockades.

What had started as a localized protest by members of the Wet'suwet'en tribe opposed to a natural-gas pipeline in British Columbia quickly spread across the country as others joined efforts to "shut down Canada."

A blockade by Mohawks on a major rail line east of Toronto forced the continent's third largest railway, Canadian National (CN), to shut down operations in eastern Canada.

Trudeau has made reconciliation with indigenous peoples a priority.

But the disruptions to rail traffic -- the backbone of Canada's transportation infrastructure, moving more than Can$250 billion ($190 billion) in goods annually -- had in just two weeks led to supply shortages and thousands of layoffs.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce warned on Friday that "essential supplies like grain for livestock, oxygen for hospitals and propane for residential heating" would soon be depleted.

Under pressure to end the crisis, Trudeau sought to establish a dialogue with indigenous leaders behind the protests.

Federal police, meanwhile, offered to retreat from the site on Wet'suwet'en lands where protesters blocked workers building the Can$6.6 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline.

But on Friday, Trudeau said those official overtures had gone unanswered.

"We can't have dialogue when only one party is coming to the table," he said. "For this reason, we have no choice but to stop making the same overtures.

"Of course, we will never close the door on dialogue, and our hand remains extended should someone want to reach for it."

Violent clashes between police and indigenous peoples in past decades led to the deaths of a Quebec policeman and a protester in Ontario.