Demonstrations against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick continued this week as protestors blocked SWN Resources trucks from entering an area to conduct seismic testing.
Despite protests being largely peaceful, they resulted in the RCMP having to temporarily block Highway 11, near Laketon, N.B.
However, the confrontation ended triumphantly for protestors on Thursday as SWN’s thumper trucks (equipment for seismic testing) gave up and left the protest.
One of the protestors, James Lane, who was at the Oct. 17 demonstration when 40 protestors were arrested by the RCMP, said the protestors won’t back down.
“There were no thumper trucks out today. When they go out, the protest would go up,” said Lane.
For environmental and health reasons, First Nations have been protesting against SWN Resources Canada’s decision to conduct seismic testing for shale gas in the province.
The RCMP were on site for precautionary reasons. Const. Julie Rogers-Marsh and Lane both confirmed the protest held Wednesday was quiet.
“We were in that area, there are people that were demonstrating and it was peaceful at this point. Because of what took place on Oct. 17, it would be irresponsible for us to not be in that area. It’s their right to protest but in a peaceful, lawful and safe manner,” said Const. Rogers-Marsh.
Protests held Thursday led to the arrest of a woman for mischief, resisting arrest, and assaulting a police officer, reported Global News.
It’s been three weeks since the RCMP found guns and explosives and arrested 40 protestors, who are now due in court. Some of the charges include threats, firearms offences, intimidation, and mischief, reports confirmed.
Rogers-Marsh said she doesn’t believe everyone that was protesting on Oct. 17 was involved in criminal activity.
“The amount of people that were there, (only) 40 were arrested, so that would tell you it wasn’t everybody.”
She said protests have been peaceful in the past; but the Oct. 17 demonstration was not one of them.
“I certainly don’t want the public to think we are putting everybody together. I mean, the people that were not protesting peacefully, those people who were involved in criminal activity have been charged. Other people may have been protesting peacefully up until that point but due to public safety we had to go in and do what was needed to do and ensure public safety,” she said.
“We’re talking about firearms, death threats, explosive devices – to me, that’s not a peaceful protest.”
Lane said that while protestors might have been in possession of firearms, they weren’t using them. “You can’t fight violence with more violence,” he said.
Alison Menard, a lawyer representing some of the protestors who have been charged, said though she wasn’t on site on Oct. 17, she has seen photos and done her research, and she thinks protestors’ actions were largely peaceful that day.
Menard said protestors had been charged throughout the summer and “those charges have been dropped for whatever reason – the Crown or the police have determined they won’t proceed.” Based on those dropped charges, she said there is a chance the significant amount of charges laid on Oct. 17 could be withdrawn, as well.
Charges that won’t be withdrawn will go to trial, where police will have to connect their claims with the people who were arrested, she said.
The RCMP confirmed at least one shot was fired by someone other than the police, Molotov cocktails were thrown at them, and five police vehicles were set on fire, reported CBC News.
“For example if we look at cars that were burnt – that happened about four or five hours after all the protestors were arrested on that day so the responsibility of burning cars or some of the other things that police say they have seen on that day, it would be difficult to connect people who were arrested and in custody of the police. Because those people were at a police station many miles away,” said Menard.
A meeting between the protestors and SWN Resources’ lawyer Michael Connors took place Nov. 10.
Lane, who was present at the meeting, said the protestors have been pondering why SWN Resources only sent one person – Connors – to meet with them. Lane’s guess is SWN was testing the waters.
Connors had been “feeling the attitude of everybody, of the movement and perhaps wondering our plan. Just to get our attitudes. They just sent one person – by himself,” said Lane.
“It was just to see how many people are coming out. How much interest there was still there after the attack with the RCMP on Oct. 17,” he said.
Connors was not available for comment.
When asked how interest has changed since October, Lane said it has only grown.
“The response has increased, but the number of people on the ground has decreased because of the weather, of course,” he said.
Lane confirmed that despite the weather, protestors won’t quit anytime soon.
“This battle will continue three more weeks or three more years.”
“No money can buy it. And it’s not about money at all,” he said.
“I know the people involved in (protesting) shale gas; they would turn down millions of dollar if they were approached. They would say no,” said Lane.
So when will the fight end?
Lane said it will end during the next election when people vote for someone who shares a platform that’s in protestor’s interests.