New Brunswick’s shale gas protests

Dallas McQuarrie, New Brunswick shale gas protests
Dallas McQuarrie, New Brunswick shale gas protests

By Dallas McQuarrie, Saint-Ignace, New Brunswick

When 150 RCMP officers, a sniper team and dogs stormed a previously peaceful camp of those protesting against shale gas exploration near Rexton, New Brunswick on October 17, our community and the protest were vaulted into national and international news.

What did not show up on most of the news coverage was an elderly woman pepper-sprayed in the face while praying the rosary; a senior citizen assaulted by a private security guard and knocked to the ground; and the bizarre arrest of Chief Aaron Sock, of the Elsipogtog First nation, one of the most outspoken advocates of non-violence.

Police say they were enforcing an injunction against a barricade that has prevented exploration vehicles belonging to Houston based SWN Resources from conducting shale gas exploration in New Brunswick. It is true that we are opposed to the process known as fracking because we believe it will contaminate our water supply and cause other environmental damage.

Intimidation not working

If this decision by the provincial government to shut down the protest camp was designed to intimidate us, it hasn’t worked. A meeting on the Elsipogtog First Nation on Sunday, October 20 drew more than 300 people, Aboriginal, Francophone and Anglophone. They made clear both their determination to continue their resistance and to support non-violence.

The protest camp on a road near Rexton, which is 80 kilometres north of Moncton, had been in place for three weeks and support for it was tremendous. Local stores and community members were giving food, winter clothing, and camping equipment. Religious leaders and parishioners were supportive, as were local municipal leaders.

My wife Susan and I had spent time at the camp, and had planned to take more food there the morning that the RCMP overran it in a debacle that saw forty people arrested, pepper spray and rubber bullets, and six RCMP vehicles burned. We were heartened on that same day to hear of spontaneous demonstrations occurring elsewhere in the province and across the country in solidarity with us.

The camp was relatively calm in the weeks leading up to the October 17 attack. There were community events, including a turkey supper to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Royal proclamation that recognized Aboriginal sovereignty over ancestral lands in the Maritimes in perpetuity. Indeed, the broad solidarity among the Aboriginal, Francophone and Anglophone communities on the shale gas issue has been the cause of much celebration.

Without Chief Sock and other Mi’kmaq warriors who have been keeping the peace, the situation might have exploded a couple of months ago. Some see the provincial government’s decision to turn the RCMP loose as an attempt to derail an Aboriginal challenge to the legality of the province giving this Texas-based shale gas company unrestricted access to their lands.

Ancestral lands

On October 2, Chief Sock announced that his band and the Signitog District Grand Council representing Aboriginal peoples in the Maritimes were immediately resuming direct control of their ancestral lands. Aboriginal peoples In New Brunswick never ceded or sold their lands to the Crown. It was a week after Sock’s historic announcement that Premier David Alward began talks with Mi’kmaq and community leaders to resolve the Rexton stand-off. Yet, after only two meetings, Chief Sock and members of his band council were arrested when RCMP overran the Rexton camp.

Dirty tricks?

It’s not clear who burned the RCMP vehicles near Rexton. Many people are old enough to remember the RCMP’s spying on Tommy Douglas, burning a barn in Quebec, and trying to start a riot at demonstrations. The events of October 17 in Rexton have the earmarks of dirty tricks, and the protest movement here has had more than one incident where agent provocateurs trying to discredit it.

For three and a half years, the anti-shale gas movement has been steadfastly peaceful wherever demonstrations took place. At Rexton, within the space of about 48 hours, something changed radically. Some new people professing support showed up at the camp, and, for the first time, there was concern about violence.
I believe agent provocateurs infiltrated the camp and provoked a confrontation that either stampeded the RCMP or provided a rationale for a decision already made. The number of parties who might have an interest in provoking such violence is very limited.

One shale gas activist, a Canadian armed forces veteran trained in intelligence work, and the chairman of a Local Service District, visited the camp most days. He’s adamant that he witnessed a man torching an RCMP vehicle and that he knows that arsonist was not someone from the camp.

Speaking truth to power

Messages of support are pouring in to this, the poorest county in the poorest province in Canada, and there is a lot of Aboriginal support for the Mi’kmaq evident across the country. Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak was at the public meeting at Elsipogtog on October 20. Mohawks, who have a close relationship with Mi’kmaq, have sometimes been on hand as observers.

That’s how things stand in Kent County.  Protestors in one of the poorest regions in Canada have fought a billion dollar gas company and the provincial government to a standstill.  In spite of the deep anguish the Rexton raid has caused, the meeting on Elsipogtog demonstrated a determination to continue speaking truth to power through non-violent means.

16 thoughts on “New Brunswick’s shale gas protests

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  1. Good! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!! many many support your efforts! The native people need your support it will make all the difference! They have never had much in the way of public support in their fights for their rights !!! this can change everything! This is every citizens fight! Stand up!
    Bright Blessings!!!


  2. Yes of course there was provocateurs there that’s the tricksters sent to make the natives look bad.Harper’s clowns.


  3. Bravo, Dallas
    I support your comments in this article/message,the truth always prevails and as you know we are against violence and Injustice in any cause or matter. We will continue supporting the anti-shale gas protest in a peaceful way because we feel this is a social injustice against all .


    Is the writer confused – does he mean either “repudiate violence” or “support non-violence” – since those are what I think I have been hearing and seeing.


    1. Hi Katherine:

      The writer – c’est moi – made a typo. The correct wording was, of course, “repudiate violence.”

      You might also be interested to know that on November 1 Amnesty International released a letter to New Brunswick Premier David Alward accusing his government of provoking violence here by its failure to act “in a manner consistent with its obligations to respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples under Canadian and international law. Furthermore, we are concerned that unless the province adopts an approach consistent with these obligations, further clashes may occur.”

      Simply put, the Conservative government of Premier David Alward in New Brunswick is failing to meet its legal obligations and arresting people who stand up for their human and democratic rights. And, in true ‘big lie’ fashion, the government that has provoked violence now accuses its opponents of acting illegally and talks about ‘the rule of law.’

      In a very real sense, what has happened, and is happening, here stems from the fact a government has decided to put corporate profit ahead of public health and safety. And, legal or not, that government is prepared to use the RCMP to achieve by force what it cannot achieve by peaceful, democratic means.


  5. I am writing from Berlin, Germany…MORE POWER TO YOU ALL!

    Full solidarity from Germany to the great people from all communities fighting for their rights as people to live with health and self determination! Metakuye oyassin!

    I saw, to my dismay, a report on you tube about the events of Oct. 17th by a TV ‘journalist’ on SUN News/’The source’…he is Ezra Levant, and should be checked for his obvious connection and shilling for the fracking industry! Unbelievably crass!

    Love and power to you all!



    1. Thanks for your note Christian and for your salute to the good people in New Brunswick for attempting to protect their communities and the environment. I share your opinion about Mr. Levant. Crass indeed.


  6. I am happy to learn that I am not the only one who wonders about the possibly that the police vehicles were burned by outsiders hired by the government. I remember reading about the RCMP firing live ammunition at observers during the lobster troubles a few years ago and the Quebec police trying to start trouble at a demonstration at Montebello same old same old


  7. Thank you for spreading the word. As one who has been involved by participating and by witnessing many demonstrations in New Brunswick through the past three years, and also by having welcomed at the camps in Kent County, I have never seen the slightest hint of violence by anyone other the private security forces and the RCMP. On our first visit to the camp on 126, we saw many friendly faces and were proud to hold up our ‘No Shale Gas’ and ‘Protect Our Water’ signs. We were warmly welcomed and offered food and beverages. There were about 30-40 adults and seniors, some children – none of us threatening. People designated as traffic monitors were making sure people crossed the road safely and the road was definitely not blocked by protestors.
    The only thing I found intimidating was the lineup of between 25-30 police cars and four paddy wagons parked just a short distance up the road, along with the constant procession of of security vehicles passing. Most vehicles passing the campsite (other than security) tooted their horns or gave a ‘Thumbs Up’ in support.


  8. Unless we ensure the success of legitimate nonviolent resistance and struggles for justice we are contributing to violence. I spent time on that Elsipogtog protectors blockade, along with other Anglo and Acadian allies. To date our elected representatives have shown no interest in a negotiated solution, continue to ignore land rights and environmental concerns of the local population, and use our own tax-payer funded security forces against us to defend foreign corporate looters and pillagers. An immense imbalance of power must be corrected if justice is to prevail and violence averted.


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