Cars burn at the scene of a shale gas protest that turned violent today. Courtesy of Gilles Boudreau
Some of the shale gas protesters arrested Thursday in Rexton, N.B., will remain in jail over the weekend out of a concern for a protest revival, a Moncton court was told Friday.
The first of the protesters is appearing in Moncton court Friday afternoon. Court appearances are also scheduled in two other communities for some of the other protesters.
A court hearing is also taking place in Moncton where SWN Resources Canada is seeking an indefinite extension to the injunction prohibiting anyone from impeding its exploration work. The company says it lost $60,000 a day while its exploration vehicles were blockaded by protesters in its vehicle compound off Route 134.
Premier David Alward said Friday that "yesterday was a very concerning day."
"Clearly, there are those who do not have the same values we share as New Brunswickers."
Alward said he was not consulted on the RCMP's decision to take action against the protesters.
"What became clear to the RCMP is that encampment that was in Kent County was dangerous," he said. "It provided significant security issues for the people of New Brunswick."
Energy Minister Craig Leonard said Friday that egotiations involving provincial officials, the protest coalition and Elsipogtog leadership seemed to be deteriorating in the days leading up to Thursday's action by the RCMP.
"Unfortunately, over the last week or so, the discussions — as the premier indicated yesterday — he was having trouble getting in touch with the chief ," said Leonard. "And clearly tensions were starting to escalate at the blockade and the RCMP felt it was time to move in to ensure the safety of everybody."
Susan Levi-Peters, a protester from Elsipogtog and former band chief, says aboriginal leaders want the provincial government to consult with the aboriginal community about shale gas exploration and development in New Brunswick.
"It was a Supreme Court ruling there should be public consultation about accommodation and agreement with the government, saying there's supposed to be public consultation, accommodation, before anything like this happened," said Levi-Peters. "That's all we've been asking."
The solidarity protest movement continues Friday. In Fredericton, protesters gathered near an intersection on the Vanier Highway, a key thoroughfare leading to the Trans-Canada Highway.
Protest violence described as worrisome
Ken Coates, a historian who authored "The Marshall Decision and Aboriginal Rights" in 2000, said Thursday's events are worrisome for all parties.
"This is one of those conflicts that has the potential to explode on a national scale," said Coates, now a Canada Research Chair at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.
"It's the kind of a standoff and a protest that generates a lot of support from other First Nations who feel they're facing similar circumstances, who are worried about an accelerated pace of resource development that basically leaves them out of the equation or does not include them sufficiently."
Speaking prior to Alward's announcement that no meetings are planned with aboriginal leaders, Coates said any meeting may be coming too late.
"When you get to this point, sometimes you've been waiting too long and you've got a situation where First Nations have basically concluded 'We've got nothing to lose in this regard, we can't let this development take place because we haven't got enough assurances that our concerns are being taken seriously,''' he said. "And, so it actually is hard to get back from this place.
The protest on Route 134 in Rexton began on Sept. 30 when protesters erected a barricade on the road leading to the compound where SWN Resources Canada had parked its shale gas exploration vehicles. Barricaudes were subsequently established on Route 134.
A court injunction was issued on Oct. 3, ordering an end to the protest. That led to negotiations between the province, protesters and leaders from Elsipogtog, but the protest remained in place, although one lane of the highway was reopened on Oct. 12.
On Thursday, more than 100 RCMP officers with guns and dogs moved in on the protesters to enforce the injunction. SWN Resources, which said it was losing $60,000 a day due to the blockade of its exploration equipment, was allowed to remove its vehicles from the compound Thursday.
Leonard believes "outside influences had somewhat taken over the situation" at the protest.
"It got to the point where security guards looking after equipment were getting threats, there were weapons at the site," he said. "The RCMP, while looking for a peaceful resolution, they obviously thought moving in yesterday was the proper approach to ensure safety for everybody."