A contempt of court hearing for three Indigenous women arrested at a construction site north of Halifax has been rescheduled for late April in the latest of a series of delays.
The women’s lawyer, Michael McDonald, is arguing before Nova Scotia Supreme Court that the women had the right to be on Alton Natural Gas property along the Shubenacadie River.
The three defendants, Darlene Gilbert, Madonna Bernard and Paula Isaac, were taken into custody in April after they allegedly broke an injunction to stay off the work site.
Alton Gas plans to use water from the 73-kilometre tidal river to create large underground storage caverns, but the three women say they fear the waterway cutting through the centre of the province will be polluted from the briny discharges.
Justice Timothy Gabriel said in court that arguments McDonald made this summer were procedurally incorrect and asked him to refile his position by February.
The parties also said in court they will resume the contempt hearing on April 27 and 28.
The judge was critical of documents filed by McDonald in September, saying, “I’m looking at it, and I’m saying this isn’t the way documents are supposed to be when they’re in the court.”
Gabriel said it wasn’t clear in McDonald’s submissions which affidavits were responding to Alton Gas’s contempt motion and which were part of separate constitutional arguments over aboriginal title.
“You’re delaying getting (to court) by not putting the documents in the proper form,” the judge said.
McDonald says he will make a case against the injunction based on a 1752 treaty with the Crown and an aboriginal title claim for the lands currently being used by Alton Gas.
The lawyer has said the case is a second opportunity to get a ruling on aboriginal title after a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision on aboriginal logging rights in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In that case, the court dismissed the claims of aboriginal title.
Gilbert, Bernard and Isaac were arrested April 10. Affidavits filed by police two days later alleged the women breached conditions set out in the injunction limiting protesters to a designated area.
An officer alleged each of the women was “found to be occupying an area on the property which was outside that designated area.” He said they were given numerous opportunities to comply with the injunction in order to avoid arrest, but they refused.
The arrests were carried out while police erected roadblocks in the area to prevent the public from entering. They told reporters at the time the step was taken to ensure public safety.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2019.