The chief of the First Nation at the centre of an ongoing dispute over shale gas development says his community will go to court to try to take control of Crown lands in New Brunswick.
Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Aaron Sock made the announcement Thursday after meeting with the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.
"It's gone past the SWN stuff," Sock said, referring to the dispute between protesters and SWN Resources Canada. "It's gone past the fracking. Right now, we're at a point, we're staking claim to the lands. We're reclaiming the ownership and that's where it's at. Let's settle it once and for all. Let's go to court."
'At the end of the day, the real question is the title of the land.' - Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Aaron Sock
Sock said he and his community members came to the decision after prayer and discussion. They say legal action is the only way to resolve the impasse with the province.
Sock said the concern shouldn't be with blocking roads or fighting with companies.
"Because at the end of the day, the real question is the title of the land," he said. "Once we can distinguish who actually is the rightful owner, then we can start talking about extracting natural resources."
CBC's Jennifer Choi reported that if legal action is taken, all shale gas development in New Brunswick could be put on hold.
Atleo said Thursday the federal government must work with all bands to ensure treaties are implemented in the aftermath of violent clashes last week between the RCMP and members of the Elsipogtog First Nation near Rexton.
He told CBC News from Elsipogtog that the dispute is about "a long-standing non-recognition of treaties that were forged before Canada was even formed, that the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples reflects back to Canada are still in full force and effect. And that the people of Elsipogtog, like indigenous nations across Canada, have the right to free, prior and informed consent over all aspects of their lives, including on issues of resource development."
Some members of Elsipogtog were arrested a week ago when the RCMP enforced a court-ordered injunction at the site of a protest outside a compound where SWN Resources stored exploration equipment and vehicles. Police said they seized guns and improvised explosive devices when they enforced the injunction to end the blockade of the compound.
Six police vehicles were burned and police responded with pepper-spray and fired non-lethal beanbag-type bullets to defuse the situation.
Atleo said the situation in New Brunswick provides an opportunity to spark discussion and action.
First Nations have won over 150 court cases across the country, he said. "This is why we're pressing all levels of government, particularly the federal and provincial governments, to sit down meaningfully with First Nations on a nation-to-nation, treaty-by-treaty basis, to work together to see the implementation of those treaty nights, which belong to First Nations and in fact they belong to all Canadians as well."
Paul Martin weighs in
Former prime minister Paul Martin also weighed in on Thursday, saying that there has been inadequate consultation between First Nations and government over resource development.
He said the federal government has ignored fundamental issues that the First Nations have asked them to address for "quite some time." The provincial government has defended its level of consultation, but Martin said it hasn't been enough.
"Consultation isn't simply a question of saying all of a sudden, 'We want to do something, let's go in,'" he said from Fredericton, where he was receiving an honorary degree from the University of New Brunswick. "Consultation is something that you build on; you've got to build confidence in order for it to function."
6 remain in jail
Meanwhile, six men arrested during the Rexton clash remain in jail as bail hearings proceed at a snail's pace.
The six men — David Mazerolle, Jason Michael Augustine, Coady Stevens, Aaron Francis, Germain Junior Breau, and James Sylvester Pictou — face 37 charges, including uttering threats, forcible confinement, and obstructing a police officer. The Crown spent Tuesday and Wednesday presenting evidence in the case.
On Thursday, bail was denied for Stevens. He was remanded and scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 1 to enter a plea to the charges against him.
The six were among 40 people arrested when RCMP broke up a weeks-long protest against shale gas exploration on Route 134 in Rexton. The protesters were preventing SWN from accessing seismic testing vehicles and equipment in its compound in the area. The exploration company had obtained a court injunction ordering that it be allowed access to its vehicles and be allowed to carry out exploration work without harassment.
The slow pace of the bail hearings had supporters crying foul. About 40 people, many from Elsipogtog First Nation, have been in court to show support for the accused.
"It's too long," said former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters. "This is the seventh day the boys, the men, have been incarcerated.
"I think they need to find out if they are going to be let out on bail or not and we have to put up money or not, but we're here to get our men and we want our men home.
"It's just a delaying tactic," she said. "Just release them and then we'll go to trial".
Non-native protesters are also upset. Peter Dauphinee believes the police wanted to send a message with their intervention in the protest on Route 134 on Oct. 17
"I think the whole thing was to scare the protesters — 'People that want to protest, stay away,'" said Dauphinee.
At a bail hearing, there are three grounds the Crown can use to ask that an accused be held in custody:
- There is a significant chance the accused may flee.
- There is concern the accused may reoffend.
- The public would lose confidence in the administration of justice if the accused were released on bail.
The Crown's arguments can not be reported due to a publication ban involving the evidence presented in the bail hearing.