OTTAWA – The head of the Assembly of First Nations is slamming the RCMP for “extreme use of state force and control” following a violent anti-shale gas protest in eastern New Brunswick.
The protest in Rexton, N.B. Thursday resulted in torched police cars and 40 arrests, including members of the Elsipogtog First Nations who want the province’s SWN Resources to stop seismic testing.
In a letter to New Brunswick Premier David Alward, National Chief Shawn Atleo says the “peaceful protest” on Elsipogtog First Nation was “disrupted through police and military intervention.”
“The actions of police this morning have been completely unacceptable and are an extreme use of state force and control over First Nations citizens and territories,” he writes.
In a separate letter to Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock, among those arrested, Atleo offers his support and calls the RCMP and province’s actions “heavy-handed.”
“I am aware that your community has engaged in good faith negotiations towards a peaceful resolution,” he writes.
“(Thursday’s) actions and numerous arrests, including members of Chief and Council, are a direct affront to your efforts at reaching a diplomatic solution.”
The weeks-long protest over shale gas exploration erupted Thursday as RCMP officers, acting on a court injunction, moved in to dismantle an encampment blocking the New Brunswick company’s seismic testing equipment.
By Friday, protesters were still on the scene but police had dispersed, while protests erupted across Canada.
The premier’s spokesman did not immediately responded to request for comment Friday.
The RCMP’s commanding officer in New Brunswick said police enforced the injunction because they concluded the weeks-long demonstration was no longer safe.
Assistant commissioner Roger Brown said the Mounties were concerned lives could be in danger if they had not responded.
Brown said six police vehicles were burned, including an unmarked police van.
He said of the 40 people who were arrested for offences including threats, intimidation and mischief, 31 have been released with
future court dates.
Officers seized a number of weapons at the site, including guns, explosive devices and knives
Police said at least one shot was fired by someone other than police, protesters threw Molotov cocktails and RCMP were investigating suspected explosive devices.
Police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas to break up the protest.
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.
On Thursday, Alward said he respected people’s right to protest as long as it is “peaceful and lawful.”
“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,” he said.
In his letter, Atleo called on the premier to cease the intervention and restore dialogue with the First Nation.
“The safety and security of our citizens is foremost concern at this time, including children, women and the elderly that have found themselves on the front lines of this conflict,” he said.
Sock was said to be meeting with Alward on Friday.
Letter to Arren Sock:
Letter to Premier Alward: