18 October 2013
Elsipogtog: An Ugly Day in New Brunswick
Thursday 17 October was an "ugly day in the history of the province of New Brunswick,” according to Mi'kmaq Chief Arren Sock as he prepared to meet with Premier David Alward the following day.
At approximately 6 AM, the RCMP broke the blockade of vehicles owned by SWN Resources parked in a compound near Rexton, New Brunswick. The Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog First Nation, together with their Acadian and Anglophone allies, kept the gate blockaded for 19 days, even in the face of a court injunction acquired by the US-based company doing seismic testing for the presence of shale gas.
The extraction of shale gas by “fracking” carries with it the real possibility of toxic contamination of the land and the water. The U.N. Declaration of Aboriginal Rights, which Canada has signed in 2012, requires states to acquire “free, prior, and informed consent” from aboriginal peoples for any project on their traditional land. The Mi’kmaq have not consented to this project. Since June, CPT’s Aboriginal Justice Team has had a presence with the people of Elsipogtog in solidarity with their demand to have their treaty rights honoured.
Approximately 200 RCMP officers, some heavily armed and in army-style camouflage, raided the encampment at the blockade and met some reported, but unconfirmed, violent resistance by unconfirmed individuals within the compound. Many nonviolent protectors were arrested – including the Elsipogtog Chief and several councilors. At the established RCMP police line, angry crowds gathered and more arrests took place. The RCMP responded with pepper spray and tear gas generating more anger and burning of police cars.
CPT is saddened to see this dissolution of a peaceful, nonviolent protest. However, the team in no way condones the actions of individuals who set fire to RCMP vehicles or who otherwise engaged in violence. CPT prays that the solidarity and community of the blockade will prevail in the ongoing struggle to end shale gas exploration.
Elsipogtog remains committed to nonviolent resistance. Chief Arren Sock released a written statement 18 October: “Chief and Council of the Elsipogtog First Nation wish to state clearly that guns and bombs, if any, have no place in our peaceful efforts. The destruction of police vehicles was unfortunate and unnecessary. A peaceful path forward still exists, but the situation is extremely volatile.”
The day was a win for SWN Resources Canada and the Province of New Brunswick as the liberated trucks drove out. Ironically, a hearing was held 18 October regarding the previously issued civil injunction. The Province of New Brunswick has joined the case, in support of SWN, as a third-party intervener. SWN has asked the court to “indefinitely” extend the injunction because wording in the court order addresses sites other than the Rexton compound. The court will issue a decision Monday, 21 October.
Regardless, demonstrations of solidarity with the protectors/protesters came from Victoria, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax.