A sacred Mi'kmaq fire at a Trans-Canada Highway protest site was disturbed by RCMP last week, the police force has now admitted.
The sacred fire has become a focal point for people opposing the realignment of the Trans-Canada Highway west of Charlottetown. Protesters had set up a camp in the path of the construction, and Mi'kmaq elder John Joe Sark had lit a sacred fire at the camp.
'I was just about to leave when the other officer leaned in under the tarp and he picked up a log.'— Shirley Gallant
RCMP cleared the camp on Oct. 12. Some expressed concern about the fate of the fire. A Mi'kmaq warrior chief from Cape Breton visited the site last week when he heard rumours the fire had been desecrated.
RCMP Sgt. Andrew Blackadar told CBC News in an email Wednesday, "We didn't do anything with the fire."
Shirley Gallant was at the camp when RCMP cleared it, and she said that's not what she saw.
"I was just about to leave when the other officer leaned in under the tarp and he picked up a log and he chucked it in the mud, just on the edge of the stream," said Gallant.
"Officer [Mike] Murphy yelled at him and said 'You put that back.' He did put it back."
Gallant said she has been upset by media reports that RCMP did not touch the fire. She feels the stories have eroded support for the protesters.
"That makes us look like liars. It's very frustrating because I'm the only one that saw it," she said.
One log moved a little, say police
Blackadar now admits the fire was disturbed. He said the officer involved was not at the briefing.
"The police officer was not aware that he was not to touch the fire, and when in fact he did he was told to put it back," he said.
"There was no disrespect meant and there was no degradation of the fire. It was moved approximately six inches."
Opponents of the highway project say the changes are unnecessary and harmful to the environment. The province argues the road needs to be straightened out for safety reasons.