MILLBROOK - VIA Rail passengers had to be bussed from Halifax to Truro on Friday after First Nations members in Millbrook "illegally" blockaded the CN rail line that passes through the reserve.
"It impacted the train that was supposed to leave Halifax at 20 after 12," VIA Rail spokeswoman Mylene Belanger said by telephone Friday afternoon. "Fifty three passengers were transported from Halifax to Truro by coach."
The blockade is a continued sign of discontent by First Nations members who are protesting against the federal government's controversial Bill C-45.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting in Ottawa Friday afternoon with native leaders as a result of a prolonged hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence in protest over native fishing rights and other environmental concerns contained in the bill.
Millbrook chief Robert Gloade, who was in Ottawa along with other native leaders from across the country as a show of support, said the rail blockade was conducted with the band's support.
"Well today was just a sign of the national support for the Idle No More movement ...," he said, by telephone from the nation's capital. "And it's just a way of our community reaching out and showing our support in regards to the meeting that's transpiring here in Ottawa with the prime minister."
The blockade consisted of a vehicle that was parked on the tracks at the rail crossing on Brooks Lane as well as a number of pallets that had been placed on the tracks on each side of the crossing.
By late afternoon, about 20 band members were on hand at the area as part of a "peaceful" protest, as described by one member who did not want to be named. Some stood warming themselves around a fire and efforts were underway late in the day to erect a teepee at the site. Although the blockade, which started around 1 p.m., was intended to end at 5 p.m., participants said they were making arrangements to keep it going throughout the night.
CN Rail spokesman Jim Feeny said efforts were underway to determine how best to handle the situation.
"We've been in touch with the band, we've been in touch with the protesters trying to determine their intentions, which are not entirely clear," he said. "And we're working with the local authorities to determine a course of action, to determine an appropriate response.
"Right now we're trying to determine the intention of the blockaders and what our next steps are going to be about the illegal blockade."
Feeny would not disclose any specific information about the freight train schedule through the area.
"This line is in regular use and we're determining the appropriate course of action to have the illegal blockade removed as soon as possible," he said.
The next passenger train is scheduled to arrive in Truro just before 4 p.m. today. The VIA spokesperson said she did not have any information available on what plans would be put in place to deal with the situation if the blockade continues.
Belanger said VIA was able to get a train out of Halifax and into Truro for the Montreal-bound run on Friday, so it could be in place for passengers who would be arriving later by bus, after the company began hearing rumours about the planned blockade.
She said the train, which took on an additional 10 passengers in Truro, was delayed by 17 minutes.