(Video depicting demonstrators banging on guardrails Friday while RCMP officers block bridge and highway below. Video courtesy of Brian Milliea)
APTN National News
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION, NB–Five people were arrested while RCMP officers and cruisers were pelted with rocks as confrontations continued Friday on a New Brunswick highway where a Houston-based energy company is trying to complete shale gas exploration work.
Dozens of demonstrators, which are led by Mi’kmaq from Elsipogtog First Nation with support from surrounding Acadian and Anglophone communities, declared victory after SWN Resources Canada’s exploration “thumper” trucks pulled away in the late afternoon.
“You could hear the loud cheering from the protectors as the thumpers were turning around,” said one Elsipogtog community member who was on the scene.
Some of the people involved in the demonstration do not want to give their names fearing the RCMP and the SWN targets individuals who appear in the media.
SWN has faced sustained opposition to its exploration work in the region for months. The Mi’kmaq core bolstering the resistance fears shale gas deposit discoveries will lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and threaten the area’s water.
The RCMP shut down Hwy 11 near Richibucto, NB, as the demonstrators confronted police lines and later took to the highway to stop SWN’s thumper trucks. the highway was reopened later in the day.
(RCMP block Hwy 11 Friday during demonstrations. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Clair)
SWN obtained an injunction against the demonstrators on Nov. 22 and is seeking an extension next Monday.
At least two RCMP K-9 units were witnessed on the scene by Elsipogtog residents and one officer was photographed holding a weapon that fires sock rounds.
Videos and photos, along with witness accounts, depicted a heavy police presence at the scene, including unmarked vehicles with Quebec license plates.
APTN National News was told in late October that a Quebec RCMP unit was on standby to bolster the police presence in New Brunswick. There are also RCMP officers from Saskatchewan who were involved in negotiations with some of the demonstrators.
The police operation, however, continues to be commanded by the RCMP’s New Brunswick J-Division.
The RCMP also blocked a bridge passing over Hwy 11 and the demonstrators banged on the guardrails as the thumper trucks rolled past underneath.
RCMP Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said demonstrators threw “several rocks” at RCMP officers and vehicles and that five men were arrested. Arrested demonstrators have been released this week with a condition they stay at least 1 kilometre away from SWN’s vehicles.
“Honestly, even one rock thrown at a member or vehicle to me is not protesting in a lawful, peaceful and safe manner,” said Rogers-Marsh.
Rogers-Marsh said this was the first report she’s received of rock throwing since the Oct. 17 raid by RCMP tactical units on a Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp that was blocking SWN’s vehicles in a Rexton, NB, compound.
Six RCMP vehicles were torched that day and about 40 people were arrested. The RCMP said it moved in on public safety grounds after receiving reports of weapons at the camp. The RCMP seized three rifles, ammunition and crude explosive devices during the raid, which also freed SWN’s vehicles.
Rogers-Marsh also said that some of SWN’s equipment had been recently vandalized.
“There has been criminal activity and now with the rock throwing as well we will continue to be in the area to monitor the situation,” said Rogers-Marsh. “It would be irresponsible of us not to be there.”
It remains unclear why SWN turned back its exploration trucks Friday. The company did the same thing Thursday after demonstrators marched onto the highway in a similar fashion, but the company states in its affidavit that its trucks passed the protest site “without incident.”
The company claims in an affidavit filed as part of its application for the injunction extension that ongoing protests this week had not hampered its exploration work.
The affidavit by Christopher Cainsford-Betty, staff operations geophysicist, said SWN has avoided planned protests at its compound in Moncton and that demonstrations along Hwy 11 have failed to impact its exploration work.
Cainford-Betty said wind and rain on Wednesday forced the company to end its work prematurely. He said in the affidavit that the company needs about five to six days beyond next Monday to finish about 15 to 20 kilometres of work.
“(The injunction) appears to have mostly successfully stopped unlawful activity in and about SWN’s work sites,” said Cainsford-Betty. “The (injunction order) has allowed SWN to proceed with its work.”
New Brunswick Premier David Alward has called the ongoing battle between SWN and demonstrators a “beachhead” that could determine the fate of resource development in the province.
Some of the demonstrators involved Friday said they still need support to bolster their numbers, but plan to continue hitting the highway to slow down SWN’s work.
“Public ignorance and greed muffles the cry for help,” said one of the demonstrators.
“You want to know who is leading this protection? The people that walk this earth, my ancestors,” said another Mi’kmaq demonstrator. “It is in our hearts to protect this and our hearts are leading this.”