Sick of lawsuit limbo, protester tells fracking company: 'Put up or shut up'

Protesters sued by SWN, a shale gas exploration company, have varying reactions when the company tells them it's discontinuing its lawsuit.

Lawsuit against activist Ann Pohl and others stopped, 4 years after anti-shale gas protests come to a head

Anti-shale gas protesters marched on Route 134 in Rexton on Oct. 1, 2013. (Jennifer Choi/CBC)

Some anti-fracking activists are still dealing with the legal repercussions of protests four years ago that successfully halted shale gas exploration by Houston-based SWN Resources Canada.

Kent County was the scene of explosive protests throughout the summer and fall of 2013 as SWN attempted to conduct seismic testing to determine the extent and viability of shale gas deposits in the area.

Mi'kmaq groups joined forces with non-Indigenous allies to halt the work, which they feared could lead to an environmental disaster.

Many faced criminal charges for their activism. At least 10 were also named as defendants in a lawsuit the company filed in October 2013.

Activist Ann Polh decided she wanted to clear her name by having a lawsuit filed against her heard in court. The company decided to discontinue the lawsuit instead, to Pohl's relief. (Jill English/CBC)

According to court filings, SWN alleged that those 10, among others, engaged in trespass, false imprisonment, conspiracy and intimidation to prevent the company from completing work it was legally allowed to do.

SWN said the months of protests cost the company $5,000 an hour in lost work, and it demanded an unspecified amount in damages as well as a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from further protests.

Ann Pohl of Bass River, one of the defendants named in the suit, was a familiar face at the roadside protests and describes herself a non-violent activist.

Defendant grew impatient 

Pohl filed a statement of defence within the allotted time frame and waited to see what would happen.

After years of waiting she had enough.

Jason Augustine of Elsipogtog consisdered the lawsuit a joke. 'I forgot about it a week later,' he says. (Submitted)

"For the rest of my life, I intend to be a person who is incredibly active on these issues, so having this lawsuit sitting around hanging over my head was going to get in the way of things," Pohl said.

"I should either get them to put up or shut up."

Suit stops after Pohl checks into it

She said she was afraid to do it but, after getting legal advice of her own, she contacted SWN's lawyer to ask that the company move the case along.

"Then six months later I get a letter from them. They decided to discontinue."

Protester Jason Augustine of Elsipogtog First Nation was also named in the lawsuit. He has not received a so-called discontinuation letter but thinks the company made the right move.

Lorraine Clair has mixed feelings about the letter of discontinuance from SWN. 'I don’t want them to get away with what they did,' she says. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"It would have been a waste of taxpayers money going to court," he said.

Augustine said he forgot about the lawsuit within a week of being served notice.

"They're bringing up ridiculous lawsuits, ridiculous charges just to try to get money back," he said. "Yet it still backfired on them."

SWN was unable to complete its seismic exploration in the fall of 2013 and the following year the Liberal government imposed a moratorium on all forms of hydraulic fracturing, including exploration.

Shortly after, SWN closed its Moncton office, saying it would oversee the project from Houston.

Lorraine Clair, another defendant named in the suit, said it was a hard-won victory. She received a notice of discontinuance this week and has mixed feelings about it. She wanted the suit to be over, but she's frustrated the harm done to her and other protesters has never been addressed.

"It's making me a little bit angry thinking that," she said. "I don't want them to get away with what they did.

"Going through everything that we went through with them — I mean, I lost more physically, mentally, emotionally than they will ever be able to take from me in money."

SWN Resources is sending out letters of discontinuance to some protesters it filed lawsuits against in 2013. The company cited equipment damage, threats and loss of income as reasons for filing the suit. (Jennifer Choi/CBC)

Clair was injured while being arrested at one protest. She believes addressing the harm done to her and other protesters is more important that SWN's lawsuit.

"I don't own anything, so what are they going to take from me?"

Meanwhile, Ann Pohl is happy to have her name cleared. She said she wasn't bluffing when she told the company to get on with it's lawsuit.

"If you want to take me to court and have it out, then take me to court and have it out," she said. "If you aren't prepared to do that, then drop the charges."

"I'm confident I'm on the side of the good."

About the Author

Tori Weldon


Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.