Rexton cars on fire

An RCMP cruiser and another unmarked vehicle burn near the shale gas protest in Rexton, N.B., on Oct. 17. (Courtesy of Gilles Boudreau)

The New Brunswick First Nation at the centre of anti-shale gas exploration demonstrations last year hosted protest strategy and civil disobedience training sessions this weekend.

Roughly 50 people gathered at Elsipogtog First Nation, preparing for the return of shale gas exploration to the province. 

SWN Resources Canada, the company targeted by heated opposition to its seismic testing last year, has said it will drill exploratory wells next year.

Protesters are already discussing the best methods to oppose the work, and on Saturday activist Philippe Duhamel was brought in to coach demonstrators on non-violent civil disobedience.

"We don’t want anybody to get hurt when they come back, SWN comes back," says John Levi, a warrior chief at Elsipogtog. "We figure it’s only good that we train people to be calm."

In January, Levi pleaded guilty to one charge of obstruction for interfering when an RCMP officer tried to make an arrest at a protest last year. He was handed a five-month conditional sentence and six months of probation.

Levi said the prospect of hydraulic fracturing in Kent County is a "life and death" situation for people living in the area. Many opposed to shale gas extraction fear it will pollute groundwater and air.

Gain support, not lose it

There were protracted efforts last year to stop SWN exploration work in southeastern New Brunswick. Some of the confrontations turned violent.

A protest along Highway 11 near Rexton on Oct. 17 ended in a violent clash with police. Six RCMP vehicles were set on fire and about 40 protesters were arrested.

"When there’s violence, of course you scare off some of your supporters," Levi said. "We don’t want that, we want to continue gaining support and not lose it."

This weekend’s strategy and civil disobedience sessions were organized with help from the Council of Canadians.

Angela Giles, a Council of Canadians organizer in the Atlantic region, says part of the weekend was spent taking a look at last year’s protests — what was successful, what went wrong, and where to improve.

She said people from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and from as far away as Ontario and New Jersey attended.

"It’s intended to help people be prepared for the next stages of the anti-shale gas struggle here in this area, in Kent County and New Brunswick, and more broadly in the Atlantic region," Giles said.