Halifax court battle over access to Alton Gas site focuses on Indigenous rights
Indigenous rights were at the centre of a court hearing on Tuesday, as a Nova Scotia company sought a judge’s approval to allow the RCMP to remove two land defenders from the firm’s property.
Dale Poulette and Rachael Greenland-Smith have been occupying a small cabin at the edge of the Alton Gas’ work site since 2017, concerned that the company’s natural gas storage project will do serious damage to the environment.
If constructed, the project would store natural gas in huge underground caverns north of Halifax, releasing tens of thousands of tonnes of salty brine into the Shubenacadie River in the process.
But the project, which lies on unceded Mi’kmaw territory, has been delayed for years because of ongoing protests.
Alton, a subsidiary of Calgary-based Alta Gas, wants the court to issue an injunction that would ensure workers have access to the site near Stewiacke. Its lawyer said the company needs to maintain and repair infrastructure on the site – a need exacerbated by a power outage in January this year.
He also accused Poulette of being “erratic and unpredictable” in his behaviour towards Alton staffers, and at times, using profane language.
Ecojustice lawyer James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, who is representing Poulette and Greenland-Smith, said such behaviour is not illegal. Their occupation of the camp has been ultimately non-violent, he told the court, and the impassioned conduct comes from a deep and spiritual concern for the land and water.
Poulette is a member of the Eskasoni First Nation, he explained, and has a sacred responsibility to protect those resources for future generations.
While Alton Gas’ attorney argued that collective Indigenous land and water rights cannot be exercised by individuals, Klaassen said that’s a simplification. Many treaty rights, including the right to hunt and fish, are exercised by individual treaty-holders.
WATCH: Protesters block entrance at Alton Gas site
Alton Gas says it has attempted “engagement and discussion” with the protesters, but they say those talks have gone nowhere.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Gerald Moir reserved his decision today after hearing more than two hours of arguments. Both parties are expected back in court on April 4.
– with files from The Canadian Press
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