RCMP Actions in Elsipogtog Questioned by First Nations Leaders
REXTON NB – The RCMP arrested forty people in a crackdown on an anti-fracking blockage outside of Rexton, New Brunswick. The Mounties report today, “The RCMP seized a number of firearms from an encampment at a protest site set up along Highway 134 in Rexton on October 17, 2013. Police also discovered improvised explosive devices, a large amount of ammunition, knives and bear spray”.
Arrests and Seizures in Rexton
Forty people were arrested. Nine people are expected to appear in court on October 18 to face a variety of charges including pointing a firearm, mischief, assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and failing to abide by a court injunction. Thirty-one other people were released on police undertakings and promises to appear in court at later dates. Our investigations continue and additional charges are expected.
The actions of the Mounties have raised concerns from First Nations groups. The Chiefs of Ontario, the Grand Council of the Crees and the Assembly of First Nations have all been speaking out on the issue.
Chiefs of Ontario Concerned
Since June of this past summer, 133 First Nations in Ontario have held strong positions on the events taking place in Elsipogtog First Nation, New Brunswick which resulted in adversarial actions by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). “We are shocked by yesterday’s developments and we pray for the safety of Chief Arren Sock, his community members and other land defenders who are at the site on Elsipogtog First Nation traditional lands,” said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.
In July 17, 2013, letters sent to SWN Resources and RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, Beardy stated that the crisis in New Brunswick could have been solved overnight if the Province of New Brunswick and SWN accepted the principle that the shale project could not go ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of Elsipogtog First Nation.
RCMP Commissioner Paulson was advised in July that instead of a confrontational strategy, they should engage the Elsipogtog First Nation in a dialogue to develop a protocol to address the constitutionally protected rights of the First Nation and to consider the approach adopted by the Ontario Provincial Police as a result of the death of Dudley George of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. Although a response to the July 17, 2013 letter was received by RCMP Paulson, a response to date has not been received from SWN Resources.
“It is past time now to call a halt to the physical exploration work and engage Elsipogtog First Nation in a respectful dialogue. In my view, this course is in the best interests of everyone and all concerned,” said Beardy.
Yesterday, New Brunswick Premier David Alward issued a statement regarding the situation saying he was committed to dialogue and doing everything in his government’s power to achieve a peaceful resolution. “As part of New Brunswick’s response to this situation, Premier Alward must halt the exploration license granted to SWN Resources and discontinue issuing further exploration licenses to any further exploration companies without the free, prior and informed consent of First Nations,” said Beardy. “This has been the simple ask of First Nations throughout Canada for too many years.”
RCMP Report Shots Fired and Explosives Thrown
During yesterday’s police operation, several shots were fired from within the encampment, Molotov-style explosives were thrown at police, six RCMP vehicles were destroyed by fire, and several improvised explosive devices were discovered and defused. These explosives contained shrapnel and had the potential to seriously injure or kill people. There were no reported serious injuries to either police or people gathered in the area. The previous day, on October 16, death threats were made by some of the protestors against members of a private security firm at the compound being blocked.
“The weapons and explosives we seized show that this was no longer a peaceful protest and there was a serious threat to public safety. We took the action necessary to address that threat,” says New Brunswick RCMP Commanding Officer Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown. “Police officers demonstrated incredible professionalism as they worked to resolve the situation under tremendously difficult and dangerous circumstances. Some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at them and sprayed them with bear spray. Setting police cars on fire created a dangerous situation for everyone in the area, and it was at that point that police were forced to physically confront some in the crowd who refused to obey the law.”
Grand Council of the Crees Step Up
The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) unconditionally supports the Elsipogtog First Nation in exercising their aboriginal and human rights and categorically condemns the use of force by the RCMP to prevent the exercise of those rights.
The Elsipogtog First Nation was raising legitimate concerns about the environmental impacts of shale gas fracking which could have serious and negative impacts on its traditional territory and the health of its citizens. The environmental issues associated with shale gas fracking are far from clear. To raise concerns and to insist on an appropriate forum for airing these concerns is the proper things to do in a democratic society. Instead, the Elsipogtog First Nation was met with pepper spray, rubber bullets and arrest.
Both the rights of assembly and protest in a democratic society, and more profoundly, the aboriginal right to informed consent prior to commencing any projects affecting the traditional territories of aboriginal peoples, have been violated.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come stated: “At a time in Canada’s history when the intensified search for natural resources presents an opportunity for this country to address fundamental aboriginal concerns in an honourable and dignified way, the decision to meet the concerns of the Elsipogtog First Nation with brute force is shameful. There is another path, a path of authentic dialogue, reconciliation and inclusion, which is the only honourable way to move forward. To miss this historic opportunity will be disastrous for Canada. The response to the Elsipogtog First Nation sends a very provocative and ill-advised message to aboriginal peoples across the country.”
At approximately 2:30 a.m. on October 18, an attempt was made to burn the Elsipogtog First Nation RCMP office. Minor damage was sustained, and the Elsipogtog Fire Department was able to put out the fire. This is a building owned by Elsipogtog First Nation.
“The RCMP respects the rights and traditions of aboriginal communities and we know that the criminal behaviour of some individuals yesterday is not representative of the greater First Nations community,” says A/Commr. Brown. “I met with the Elsipogtog Chief and Council last night and I was reassured to hear them say they don’t condone violence and want peaceful discussions. We urge all those who want to demonstrate to do so peacefully and lawfully and allow things to calm down.”
The RCMP is asking anyone with information that can help identify those responsible for criminal acts to contact the RCMP, or to provide information anonymously through Crime Stoppers at www.crimenb.ca or 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).