FOR: Mi’kmaq & Wabanaki Environmental Protectors, Kent County Grassroots Communities, & the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance
TO: Develop a Legal Strategy to Make the Government of NB Send Home the Texas Frackers and PROTECT ATLANTIC REGION for future generations.
“Catch and Release” is fishing terminology but also describes an RCMP tactic for intimidating anti-shale gas protesters and environmental protectors in New Brunswick. On November 29th, an older Acadian man standing alone with a placard was arrested and then released without charge. An independent journalist experienced this three separate times. In one memorable incident, a Mi’kmaq spiritual leader from the Elsipogtog First Nation peacefully protested dressed as Santa, and was arrested, detained, and then released without charge. These are not isolated examples of abuse of process as will become clear below.
Four years ago, the Government of New Brunswick (NB) granted licenses for the exploration and testing for shale gas deposits on 1.4 million hectares of Crown Land, as well as various privately owned lands. The largest lease-holder is SWN Resources Canada (SWN), a wholly owned subsidiary of Texas-based Southwestern Energy.
Throughout 2011 until now, New Brunswickers (NBers) from all walks of life have been urging the Government of New Brunswick to not allow unconventional hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), through petitions, lobbying, protests, public information sessions, etc. With the emergence of the Idle No More movement a year ago, the Mikmaq People – especially those from Elsipogtog First Nation — got on board with this anti-fracking opposition in a BIG way.
People, including NB’s own Chief Medical Officer of Health, are concerned about the links between fracking and pollution of water, land and air, and its potential impact on natural habitat and human health. The other huge issue is the lack of consent by NBers to proceed with extreme shale gas extraction, especially the Indigenous people of the province, who never ceded their original territory in the pre-Confederation Peace & Friendship Treaties. Regardless, the NB government’s enthusiasm for fracking has continued unabated.
Fast forward to early June 2013, when SWN began seismic testing for shale gas deposits in Kent County (c. 50 km north of Moncton). Ignored by their own provincial government, Acadian and English-speaking allies rallied behind the Mi’kmaq in a unique grassroots alliance to protect the Signigtog District of Mi’kmak’i. As SWN moved around Kent County, several “Unity Camps” were established on properties volunteered by area residents.
After facing stiff resistance, SWN temporarily ceased testing in late July with only about 40% of their planned work program complete.
When SWN returned in September, the “Rexton” or “Route 134” camp was set up. Demonstrations resumed, this time including a road blockade. For almost three weeks, the RCMP showed restraint, and the protest remained peaceful.
RCMP changed tactics at dawn on October 17th. Hundreds of heavily armed officers raided the camp, citing as pretext the need to enforce a civil injunction by the SWN corporation against several demonstrators plus unsubstantiated information that the protest had become dangerous. Native and non-Native area residents opposed to fracking rushed to the scene. In the ensuing melee, a phalanx of various police officers (perhaps from more than just the RCMP) deployed flash bombs, fired bean bag bullets and sprayed pepper spray directly into the faces of people, including elderly people and even children. The news reports you have all seen (the burning police cars) neglected to mention that the Mi’kmaq Warriors providing protest security were arrested several hours earlier. Questions remain about who started these fires, as well as police claims about weapons being used by the protestors.
Forty people, including Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock, were arrested. Most were “Catch and Release” (their charges were subsequently dropped). Some were charged with various offences, often public mischief. Several Mi’kmaq men and one teenage boy were detained without bail pending arraignments. One Warrior was sentenced on a plea bargain. Two are still in jail. None have had the benefit of Gladue or Aboriginal Court Services. (People are still being arrested, presumably based on extensive video taping by private security and public police forces, although to date none have been charged with starting the fires that consumed the police vehicles.)
Fifteen people (Native and non-Native) are being sued by SWN for economic loss in what is often colloquially called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). In conjunction with their civil actions, SWN was also granted two injunctions, dated October 3 and November 22. Both injunctions also name “John Doe” and “Jane Doe.” The latter injunction restricted anyone in NB not employed by SWN (by virtue of “John and Jane Doe”) from being within 250 metres of company equipment and/or personnel.
SWN has finally left NB with perhaps 50% of their planned 2013 work programme complete. They say they will return and indeed are being welcomed back by NB Premier David Alward.
Virtually every lawyer in NB with civil litigation experience does business with Irving industries, who publicly partnered with SWN since 2011. Modest legal assistance has been provided “off the record,” but there are no lawyers “of record” for:
- protestors who say they suffered physical injury from SWN vehicles;
- the youth who experienced a death threat from SWN personnel
- the many protestors whose human rights were trampled or who claim physical injuries from the RCMP; or,
- those named in the SWN lawsuits.
A number of relevant background documents and additional links can be viewed elsewhere on this blogspace.