An Elsipogtog First Nations warrior chief facing charges in connection with ongoing anti-shale gas protests in Kent County has been released from jail on conditions.
John Levi, 45, pleaded not guilty on Monday to obstructing police and mischief in relation to a June 21 demonstration on Highway 126, where SWN Resources is conducting seismic testing.
Levi, who had been in custody since Friday, appeared in Moncton provincial court for a bail hearing, represented by lawyer T.J. Burke.
The courtroom was overflowing with family, friends and supporters, many of whom wore anti-shale gas T-shirts and pins.
Before court proceedings began, Judge Irwin Lampert told the crowd to maintain decorum. Otherwise, he said, he would not hesitate to clear the courtroom.
At one point, a man stood up and spoke in support of Levi. Lampert got sheriffs to escort the man out.
The Crown argued Levi should not be released, saying the charges Levi faces breach a conditional sentence he's under for an altercation with fisheries officers.
He also questioned Levi's role as a warrior chief.
Leads peaceful protests
Levi, who took the stand in his own defence, said as the warrior chief he is to lead peaceful protests and traditional ceremonies.
He was appointed warrior chief by the Mi'kmaq Grand Council, which is made up of chiefs and elders, he said.
"We are peaceful people and we do peaceful protests. It's not like we go there and have a war. It's nothing like that," Levi told reporters outside the courtroom.
Levi's lawyer also noted the Crown's own witness, Levi's probation officer Troy Sock, testified that Levi is an ideal client, that he doesn't believe Levi will commit any offences if released and that he's not a threat to the community.
The judge agreed to release Levi, provided he keep the peace and be of good behaviour, stay 100 metres away from SWN and subcontracted equipment and employees, and give authorities 48 hours notice if he changes his name, address or job.
Levi is scheduled to return to court on July 31 at 9:30 a.m.
Several supporters joined hands and cheered outside the courtroom to celebrate Levi's release.
"We want him to know, and we want the community of Elsipogtog to know and we want the First Nations to know that we support them, that we are proud of what they are doing for their province," said one of the supporters, Debra Hopper.
Some people have credited Levi with helping to keep the peace in the eastern First Nations community.
RCMP have warned the situation in Kent County is getting dangerous after weeks of problems, including property damage and protesters being arrested.
SWN Resources is conducting seismic testing in the area to determine if developing a shale gas industry in the province is viable.
Opponents are concerned the hydro-fracking process used to extract natural gas will ruin the water supply and damage the surrounding environment.