Trudeau Calls for ‘Patience’ as Frustrations Over Rail Blockade Grow

OTTAWA — With concerns growing over fuel shortages and layoffs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came under increasing pressure Tuesday to end a rail blockade by Indigenous protesters that has shut down the eastern operations of Canada’s largest freight railway and curbed passenger rail service across the country.

The blockade in Tyendinaga, Ontario, east of Toronto, was set up along the Canadian National Railways by Mohawks as a gesture of support for hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia. They have been trying for more than a year to stop a natural gas pipeline from being laid through a portion of their land.

The Mohawk blockade, which was entering its 12th day and began after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began arresting Wet’suwet’en protesters, has been accompanied by widespread protests of shorter duration that have snarled traffic and blocked ports and other rail lines.

Looming over Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet as they looked for a solution to the blockade are memories earlier protests by Indigenous people that turned violent. In the 1990s, attempts by the police to end land occupations at Oka, Quebec, and Ipperwash, Ontario, led to protracted standoffs and deaths on both sides.

In the House of Commons on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau repeated that his government was attempting to negotiate an end to the current situation rather than responding with force.

“On all sides, people are upset and frustrated — I get it,” Mr. Trudeau said, often over heckling from Conservative members of Parliament. “Those who would want us to act in haste, who want us to boil this down to slogans and ignore the complexities, who think that using force is helpful: It is not. Patience may be in short supply, and that makes it more valuable than ever.”

The Mohawk protesters say they won’t let trains roll again until the police leave the pipeline route the Wet’suwet’en are contesting in British Columbia.

Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, suggested that the protesters did not represent the majority opinion within Indigenous communities, including the Wet’suwet’en. He also suggested that many protesters are non-Indigenous “radical activists” intent on destroying the oil and gas industry.

“Will our country be one of rule of law or one of rule of mob?” Mr. Scheer asked in the parliamentary debate. “Nobody has the right to hold our economy hostage.”

Mr. Trudeau excluded Mr. Scheer from a private meeting about the situation on Tuesday that he held with the leaders of the other three opposition parties. An emergency debate on the situation was scheduled for Tuesday evening in the House of Commons.

So far, the only industry that has clearly been hurt are the railways.

Via Rail Canada, the government-owned passenger carrier that operates mainly on Canadian National tracks, said Tuesday that nearly 103,000 passengers had been forced to change plans, although it said service will resume on Thursday from Toronto to cities west, and that a limited number of trains will also run east from Ottawa to Montreal and on to Quebec City as of Thursday.

Canadian National has laid off a small number of employees. Its rival, Canadian Pacific, continues to operate unimpeded in Ontario. Canadian National’s tracks run through land that the Mohawks say is their traditional territory; Canadian Pacific’s rails are farther north.

While there have been predictions from several politicians of factory layoffs, representatives for four auto companies — Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Ford — said the Canadian National shutdown had not affected their assembly lines, which are major employers in Ontario.

A spokeswoman for General Motors said that it has created only “some minor disruptions.”

Propane, most of which reaches Quebec and Atlantic Canada by trains from Alberta and a pipeline terminal in Sarnia, Ontario, was already experiencing a supply problem before the blockade because Canadian National had temporarily stopped carrying it and other dangerous goods after a fiery derailment of an oil train in Saskatchewan.

That, combined with the blockade, has left propane wholesalers in Atlantic Canada within days of running out of inventory, according to Nathalie St-Pierre, the chief executive of the Canadian Propane Association.

“It’s down to the wire,” she said.

The effect so far on the chemical industry, another major railway user, appears to be limited. Olin has temporarily shut down a chlorine factory in Bécancour, Quebec, but has not laid off any employees there.

Bob Masterson, chief executive of the Chemistry Association of Canada, said he understood why the government was trying to negotiate a solution with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and the Mohawks. But he said he was frustrated that the authorities had not been more forceful with other protesters, including a group that blocked trains on Saturday at a major railway yard in suburban Toronto.

“The government has a duty to issue a very strong message that these disruptions won’t be tolerated,” he said. “They have said no strong words to anybody.”

While Mr. Scheer, the Conservative leader, began calling on Mr. Trudeau last week to order the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to break up the blockade by the Mohawks at Tyendinaga, that would be an exceptional step.

Kent Roach, a professor of law at the University of Toronto, said that Canada’s policing system operates with “the understanding that the political masters can only provide general policy direction and not direct specific operational or law enforcement matters.”

That principle, he said, was reinforced by the highly publicized inquiry into a clash that followed the Indigenous occupation of a provincial park in Ipperwash, Ontario, in 1995.

The Conservative government at the time called for the swift removal of the protesters, a position that the Ontario Provincial Police initially resisted. An unarmed Indigenous protester was killed when heavily armed members of the police force rushed the group based on what the inquiry later concluded was incorrect information about violent acts and firearms.

Some years earlier, a standoff in 1990 over plans to build a golf course and condominiums on land claimed by Mohawks in Oka, Quebec, grew into one of the most fraught modern confrontations between Canada and its Indigenous people.

A police officer with the Sûreté du Québec died when the provincial police force charged a barricade, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and finally the military, had to be brought in.

The standoff ended after 78 days, but not before a 14-year-old girl was injured by a soldier’s bayonet.

Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet have offered little information publicly about their negotiations with Indigenous leaders or their plans, and the prime minister is in what appears to be a difficult situation.

The natural gas pipeline construction on the Wet’suwet’en land is almost entirely regulated by the province of British Columbia, not the federal government, and the Wet’suwet’en people themselves are divided over it. Their elected band councils support the project, but most of their hereditary leaders oppose it.

Carolyn Bennett, the government’s Indigenous relations minister, whose portfolio includes negotiating land claims, held a long telephone conversation with the hereditary chiefs on Tuesday, but no details about it were disclosed.

On Saturday, Mark Miller, the Indigenous services minister, who is in charge of issues like health care and education, spent about nine hours in talks with the Mohawks at Tyendinaga.

On Tuesday, Mr. Miller told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that the situation there rests entirely on resolving the pipeline dispute in British Columbia.

“You’re starting to see a rising tide of vitriol and bigotry,” he said. “Let’s look at history and not repeat what’s gone on in the past.”