ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION, N.B. – The people of the Elsipogtog First Nation will continue their fight against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick, the community’s chief said Monday as he criticized the RCMP for the way it handled a protest last week that spiralled out of control.
“What the RCMP put our people through was almost horrendous, to say the least,” Aaron Sock told a news conference.
Sock said every effort will be made to keep its opposition peaceful after 40 people were arrested and weapons seized when the Mounties enforced a court-ordered injunction Thursday to end the blockade of a compound near Rexton, where SWN Resources stored exploration equipment and vehicles.
On Monday, a judge with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Moncton, N.B., lifted that injunction, saying it was no longer required since the energy company’s equipment and vehicles have been removed from the site and the protesters are no longer blocking the road.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is in New Brunswick to show his support for Elsipogtog and said the RCMP’s actions last week were heavy-handed.
“I think every Canadian should be concerned when we look at the use of coercive state power against indigenous people,” he said.
Elsipogtog member Amy Sock lifted her arms to show bruises on her biceps that she says she received when she was arrested at the protest site.
Assistant commissioner Roger Brown, the RCMP’s commanding officer in the province, has defended the police response, saying officers seized firearms and improvised explosive devices that were a threat to public safety.
Sock was among those arrested last week. Police say the arrests were for firearms offences, threats, intimidation, mischief and violating the injunction.
Six police vehicles including an unmarked van were burned and the RCMP said they had Molotov cocktails tossed at them. In response, police fired non-lethal beanbag type bullets and used pepper spray to defuse the situation.
The burned vehicles were removed from the area Sunday night and taken to nearby Rexton.
RCMP Const. Julie Rogers-Marsh said the force is pleased with efforts from all sides to restore peace at the protest site.
“Anyone who wants to demonstrate can do so in a peaceful and lawful manner,” she said Monday.
“Criminal behaviour of some individuals in recent days is not representative of the greater First Nations community.”
Sock said no decisions have been made on how Elsipogtog will proceed but he expects a meeting later this week with Premier David Alward, whose government believes shale gas exploration can be done while protecting the environment and encouraging economic growth.
A spokesman for the premier’s office said he expects a meeting to be held this week, but no arrangements have been made yet.
On Monday, the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs issued a statement, calling for the provincial government to suspend the permits granted to SWN Resources so that a cooling period can take hold.
“There has to be recognition on behalf of the government that the consultation process has failed,” said Chief George Ginnish. “The Assembly has been telling the government and SWN for years that the phased approach to consultation is incompatible with the aboriginal perspective, and that it was not working.”
A small group of people remains at the protest site on Route 134. There are tents and many signs opposing shale gas exploration and the presence of SWN Resources in the province.
The RCMP blocked Route 134 three weeks ago after protesters began spilling onto the road. Protesters then cut down trees and placed them across another part of the road, blocking the entrance to the company’s equipment compound.
The protesters want SWN Resources to stop seismic testing and leave the province. The company says it’s only in the early stages of exploration in New Brunswick.