Canadian rail companies lay off more than 1000 workers, court grants injunction against protests


Canadian rail companies have announced temporary layoffs because of the ongoing protests against a natural gas pipeline which has shut down much of the country’s rail system for nearly two weeks. Today, VIA Rail announced it would lay off 1,000 workers:

“Until CN Rail opens the remaining tracks for service, VIA Rail has no choice but to continue the cancellation of its services on a large part of its network,” Via Rail said in a statement. “It is with sincere regret that we must proceed with temporary employee suspensions.”

Chief executive Cynthia Garneau called the service interruption due to a 13-day blockade east of Belleville, Ontario, “unprecedented.”

“In 42 years of existence, it is the first time that VIA Rail, a public intercity passenger rail service, has to interrupt most of its services across the country,” she said in a statement.

The company has cancelled more than 530 trains since blockades began Feb. 6.

That’s the second set of layoffs announced this week. Yesterday, CN Rail said it would lay off 450 employees:

CN Rail is laying off about 450 workers in its operations in Eastern Canada after cancelling more than 400 trains in the past week over a rail blockade protesting an LNG pipeline in British Columbia…

The Montreal-based railway says the situation is “regrettable” because the impact on the economy and its employees from the protests is unrelated to CN’s activities and beyond its control.

There’s no immediate sign that protesters intend to stop blocking rail lines but even if they did it would take weeks for industries dependent on rail transportation to recover. Already business groups are warning of massive losses as a result of the blockade:

“Our last situation like this was the CN Rail strike in November. That was an eight-day long strike and it took us over a month to recover, if not more,” Joel Neuheimer, vice-president of international trade and transportation for the Forest Products Association of Canada, told Global News…

Canada’s forest sector — which includes lumber and wood products like pulp and paper — has already seen a loss of $100 million since the blockades sprang up two weeks ago…

Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters CEO Dennis Darby said the costs blooming behind the crisis are “beyond serious.”

He claims that an estimated $425 million in goods are becoming stranded daily as a result of the blockades. Darby and other business leaders gathered in Toronto on Tuesday to urge the government to act — and fast…

“Manufacturers don’t have much time before the impact becomes dire,” he said. “It’s critical.”

Protesters have said they won’t stop until both police and construction workers leave the site where a natural gas pipeline is being built. A court order issued in December said construction workers had to be given access to the site but protesters have been setting up roadblocks anyway. The RCMP came in and arrested some protesters but now the situation once again seems to be a stalemate. Yesterday Prime Minister Trudeau called for patience so the two sides can negotiate a solution.

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That’s easy for Trudeau to say because he’s not going to lose his job (at least not immediately) if this drags on for another week or two. The same can be said for the protesters sitting outside to block the rail lines. But for the 1,450 people who were laid off this week, the situation is a bit more serious.

As I’m writing this, I see that CN Rail has apparently received some sort of injunction from a judge. Police were on hand as protesters were served the injunction and the material placed on the tracks was removed by counter-protesters.

This video shows a bit more of what happened. As you can see, things briefly got heated (for Canada).

Update: A few more tweets on this.

An earlier confrontation where the protesters refuse to remove their masks:

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