CREDIT: Ossie Michelin, AP
Peaceful protests by First Nations members over a planned shale gas project in Rexton, New Brunswick exploded into violence and led to over 40 arrests on Thursday after Royal Canadian Mounted Police tried to break up a roadblock.
All summer, members of the Elsipogtog and Mi’kmaq First Nations tribes have been protesting plans by oil company SWN Resources Canada to perform seismic testing of land the tribe considers its traditional hunting ground. This testing could lead to a shale fracking operation in the area, and many are concerned about what that would mean for drinking water.
“We don’t want shale gas here,” former chief Susan Levi-Peters told the Globe and Mail. “We have been asking for consultations for three years now and nothing has happened. Instead they just put our people in jail.”
In September, the protesters downed trees to block Route 134.
Their request? A meeting with the provincial government and SWN Resources over the project.
On Thursday morning, around 100 officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived near a SWN Resources storage facility to enforce an injunction to break up the protest. The company obtained the injunction earlier this month.
Several hundred protesters refused, and then chaos broke out.
Protesters say that police arrived with guns drawn, used pepper spray and fire hoses on elders, and began arresting people. Police say that protesters held firearms, uttered threats, and used Molotov cocktails. Tear gas and rubber bullets clouded the air. One gunshot rang the air, not fired by Canadian Police. At the end of the conflict, 40 people were arrested and 5 police cars were burned. No major injuries were reported.
— Laura Brown (@01LBrown) October 17, 2013
Many protesters were shocked at the militaristic response to a peaceful protest, while others thought that the escalated response of protesters — and burning police cars — obviated the benefit of what had been a peaceful protest.
Could a meeting between government, First Nations, and the oil company have prevented such escalation over the summer? Protester Al McLaughlin told CBC in September: “We’ve tried to speak to politicians, we’ve petitioned, we’ve marched on the legislature, we’ve done everything that we should be doing and Alward and his government just keep saying they have a mandate. I don’t know who he got it from, it sure wasn’t the people of New Brunswick.”
On Thursday, people in Ottawa, Halifax, Vancouver, and other cities demonstrated in support of the New Brunswick protests by closing highways and blocking traffic.
On Friday, New Brunswick Premier David Alward was to meet with First Nations members to discuss what happened on Thursday.