40 arrested, police vehicles burned as RCMP clash with N.B. shale gas protesters

The push to stop shale gas exploration in NB erupted into violence after police moved into dismantle a blockade Ross Lord reports.

REXTON, N.B. – RCMP officers fired rubber bullets* and used tear gas to break up an anti-shale gas protest in eastern New Brunswick on Thursday.

Police arrested a number of protesters, including a Mi’kmaq First Nation chief, at the scene.

Demonstrators, who have blocked Route 134 outside Rexton for a number of weeks, retaliated by setting six vehicles, including police cars, on fire.

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Raw footage: Scenes from the protest site near Rexton, N.B.

About 100 protesters were at the scene of the blockade Thursday morning when RCMP officers acting on a court injunction moved in to dismantle the encampment blocking seismic testing equipment owned by SWN Resources.

READ MORE: Six Nations blocks southern Ont. highway in solidarity with N.B. protesters

SWN Resources, has been conducting exploration for shale gas in various parts of New Brunswick since 2010. The company has been the subject of repeated protests and even suspended testing at one point due to opposition to its operations.

Video: Anti-shale gas protests turn violent. Global’s Emily Barron-Cadloff reports. Video: Global’s Natasha Pace takes at the events leading up to Thursday’s clash

READ MORE: What is shale gas, and why are people protesting against testing for it?

The protesters have been demanding a halt to seismic testing for shale gas deposits in the province.

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Premier David Alward addressed the violence in Rexton, saying he respected people’s right to protest as long as it is “peaceful and lawful.” “… [I] cannot condone and quite frankly I’m greatly troubled by the violence we’re seeing today. I’m calling on First Nations leaders and New Brunswickers to sit and engage in that dialogue. That is important,” Alward said.

Alward reached an agreement with Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren Sock last week to set up a working goroup to find a resolution to the dispute.

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Sock was one of the 40 people RCMP took into custody Thursday morning.

It was shortly after his arrest that a molotov cocktail was thrown at a police vehicle. Other vehicles were set ablaze after that.

READ MORE: Protesters burn flag in Winnipeg after clash in New Brunswick

RCMP Const. Julie Rogers-Marsh said in a statement to The Canadian Press five police vehicles were destroyed.

“The RCMP has worked diligently with all parties involved in hopes for a peaceful resolution. Those efforts have not been successful,” Rogers-Marsh said.

She said police decided to enforce the court-ordered injunction because threats had been made against private security guards at the site the night before.

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Rexton, NB located on Google Maps ( screen grab). screen grab

Global News reporter Emily Baron Cadloff and cameraman Kevin Godwin were forced to flee with protesters, as Mounties used pepper spray and rubber bullets* to disperse the crowd.

Rogers-Marsh wouldn’t reveal what tactics police were using to contain the crowd and refused to comment on reports that officers had fired rubber bullets.

(*PLEASE NOTE: RCMP said in a press conference on Friday, Oct.19 — one day after this story was published — officers fired sock rounds not rubber bullets.)

One protester who spoke with Cadloff described being sprayed in the face.

“They sprayed it right in my face like this and they kept on pushing me back,” the man said. “It burns. A real bad burn. My face and when I breathe in [it’s] burning.”
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A bystander warned the man not to pour water in his eyes, saying it would make the burning sensation worse.

Raw video: Protester speaks after being pepper sprayed

Route 134 at Rexton and Route 11 between Richibucto and Sainte-Anne-de-Kent were closed to traffic and schools in the area were closed early for the day after they were locked down as a precaution.

According to Baron Cadloff, the situation had calmed down but as of late afternoon protesters were beginning to reassemble at the site.

*With files from The Canadian Press

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PLEASE NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated police used rubber bullets to disperse crowds at the Rexton, N.B. shale gas site. RCMP said in a press conference on Friday, Oct.19 — one day after this story was published — officers fired sock rounds not rubber bullets

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