* No timetable for resumption of service
* Third disruption in a month by Idle No More native group
* Prime Minister Harper has agreed to Jan. 11 meeting
* Protests in support of northern Ontario chief on hunger
By Frank McGurty
TORONTO, Jan 5 Aboriginal demonstrators
disrupted passenger rail service on routes connecting Toronto
with Ottawa and Montreal on Saturday, a day after Canada's prime
minister agreed to meet with First Nations leaders to discuss
grievances behind a growing native protest movement.
About 1,000 people traveling on four trains were stranded on
VIA Rail routes in eastern Ontario when the railway stopped
service in both directions Saturday evening, said a VIA Rail
spokeswoman, Annie Marsolais. The passengers were completing
their trips on buses provided by the railway.
VIA Rail could provide no firm timetable for the resumption
of service, saying it was awaiting further information from
local authorities about the protest, which was blocking tracks
near Marysville, about 205 kilometers (127 miles) east of
Authorities on the scene of the protest could not
immediately be reached for comment.
It was at least the third major rail disruption in the past
month by demonstrators from the loosely organized Idle No More
movement. Protesters blocked a Canadian National Railway line in
Sarnia, Ontario, for about two weeks until Wednesday, and there
were shorter blockades elsewhere in the country, including one
that delayed passenger trains between Montreal and Toronto for
several hours last Sunday.
There were also scattered demonstrations on U.S.-Canadian
border crossings in the Niagara region near Buffalo, New York,
and in eastern Ontario, according to the media reports.
Saturday's protests came even though Prime Minister Stephen
Harper extended an olive branch to the angry aboriginal movement
on Friday by agreeing to a Jan. 11 meeting to discuss social and
The meeting is a key demand from Theresa Spence, a native
chief from northern Ontario who has been on a hunger strike for
26 days on an island within sight of the Canadian Parliament in
Harper said next Friday's meeting would address economic
development, aboriginal rights and the treaty relationship
between the government and native groups. He described it as a
follow-up to a meeting with aboriginal leaders last January as
well as talks in November with Assembly of First Nations
National Chief Shawn Atleo.
Many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals live on reserves
where conditions are often dismal, with high rates of poverty,
addiction and suicide.
Treaties with Ottawa signed a century ago finance their
health and education in a way that many experts say is now
Idle No More was sparked by legislation that activists say
Harper's Conservative government rushed through Parliament
without proper consultation with native groups and which affects
their land and treaty rights. But it has broadened into a
complaint about conditions in general for native Canadians.