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Rail Blockades Force Trudeau to Scrap UN Lobbying Push

By Stephen Wicary

(Bloomberg) Justin Trudeau abandoned a trip to the Caribbean to deal with indigenous-rights protests that have crippled Canada’s railways.

The prime minister, who traveled to Ethiopia and Senegal last week hoping to persuade African leaders to back his push for a United Nations Security Council seat, said late Sunday he would remain in Ottawa to deal with the crisis.

Blockades in British Columbia, where some hereditary chiefs oppose a new natural gas pipeline by TC Energy Corp., and protests in Ontario brought rail traffic in parts of the sprawling, trade-dependent nation to a halt last week. Via Rail, Canada’s primary intercity passenger rail service, has canceled almost all trains.

Pressure is building on Trudeau to intervene in the dispute and order police to clear the blockades. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he urged the prime minister in a phone call Sunday to “take immediate action and provide detail on a clear plan” that would get trains moving again. Montreal-based Canadian National Railway Co. said Feb. 13 it would begin shutting down its network in Eastern Canada, stalling the flow of goods including propane that is needed for heating in parts of the country.

But Trudeau’s government has prioritized reconciliation with First Nations and is leery of actions that could spark a repeat of violent clashes between the authorities and indigenous communities in the past.

“We have the experience of Oka 30 years ago where people went in with police and someone died,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told The Globe and Mail newspaper after meeting Mohawk leaders near Belleville, Ontario, for nearly eight hours on Saturday.

“My question to Canadians, my questions to myself and to fellow politicians regardless of the party, is whether we do things the same old way and repeat the errors of the past, or do we take the time to do it right?”

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