Aboriginal Justice: Shale Gas Struggle Intensifies

 

Protectors march near former encampment location on 19 October, two days after police broke the blockade against shale gas developer Southwestern Energy Resources Canada.
A two-year campaign by Elsipogtog First Nation to protect their traditional lands from shale gas development continued to intensify in fall 2013.

On 29 September, Elsipogtog women protectors blocked the entrance to a compound housing vehicles and equipment of Texas-based shale gas developer Southwestern Energy Resources Canada (SWN) near Rexton, New Brunswick. The compound is located on unceded Elsipogtog traditional territory. Within minutes, other indigenous protectors, as well as Acadians and Anglophones (descendants of French- and English-speaking settlers, respectively) joined them. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) attempted to re-secure the entrance to the compound, but the unarmed protectors successfully stood their ground and soon erected an encampment.

First Nations, Acadian and Anglophone communities united in opposition to the proposed shale gas exploration for the first time in this campaign’s two-year history. Despite multiple petitions, rallies, and pleas, and the opposition of approximately 90% of Kent county’s population, the conservative provincial government maintains its mantra that “shale gas exploration will continue.”

Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock entered the encampment on 1 October flanked by about 300 people. He read a recently enacted Band Council Resolution authorizing the reclamation of all unoccupied Crown Land First Peoples had not ceded to the Canadian government and issued an eviction notice to SWN, ordering the corporation to leave by midnight 1 October.

CPT’s Aboriginal Justice Team, (AJT) which had accompanied the community in its resistance to unwelcome gas development since late June, remained with the encampment until 16 October. On 17 October, at approximately 6:00 a.m., the RCMP broke the blockade of the SWN vehicles. Approximately 200 RCMP officers, some heavily armed and in camouflage, raided the encampment and met violent resistance. Many nonviolent protectors were arrested, including the Elsipogtog Chief and several councilors. Angry crowds gathered at the established police line. The RCMP made more arrests and used pepper spray and tear gas, generating more anger. One or more individuals then set fire to five police cars, destroying them.

Members of AJT wrote, “CPT is saddened to see this dissolution of a peaceful, nonviolent protest. However, the team in no way condones the actions of individuals who set fire to RCMP vehicles or who otherwise engaged in violence. CPT prays that the solidarity and community of the blockade will prevail in the ongoing struggle to end shale gas exploration.”

Elsipogtog remains committed to nonviolent resistance. Chief Arren Sock released a written statement 18 October: “Chief and Council of the Elsipogtog First Nation wish to state clearly that guns and bombs, if any, have no place in our peaceful efforts. The destruction of police vehicles was unfortunate and unnecessary. A peaceful path forward still exists, but the situation is extremely volatile.”

On 21 October, Judge George Rideout refused to extend an injunction that would have prevented protesters from impeding SWN’s staging area and storage facility. He reasoned that with the blockade over, it was inappropriate for the court to act preemptively to prevent speculated activity. On 18 November, Judge Judy Clendenning dismissed a bid by the Elsipogtog First Nation for an injunction to stop SWN’s seismic testing for shale gas.