New Brunswick

2 shale gas protesters stand trial on combined 17 charges

Two anti-shale gas protesters, arrested during a violent clash with the RCMP in Rexton last fall, are standing trial on a combined total of 17 charges this week.

Germain Junior Breau and Aaron Francis arrested during violent clash with RCMP in Rexton on Oct. 17

Two anti-shale gas protesters went on trial in Moncton Monday, after spending the past 23 weeks in jail.

Germain Junior Breau, 21, of Upper Rexton, and Aaron Francis, 20, of Eskasoni, N.S., are both facing numerous firearm and assault-related charges

RCMP say six police vehicles were destroyed by fire on Oct. 17. (Courtesy of Gilles Boudreau)
They were arrested during a violent clash between protesters and the RCMP on Oct. 17 near Rexton, where SWN Resources Canada was conducting seismic testing.

About 40 people were arrested that day, but Breau and Francis are the only two remaining in custody after waiving their bail hearings.

Breau is standing trial on 12 charges, including five counts of pointing a firearm, five counts of assault causing bodily harm, one count of possession of a firearm for a dangerous purpose and one count of obstruction.

Francis is facing five charges, including two counts of intent to do bodily harm by causing an explosive device to explode, and one count each of placing or throwing at or on a person an explosive substance, possession of explosives while prohibited to do so, and committing an offence while having his face masked.​

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Their supporters nearly filled the provincial courtroom as the Crown presented its case.

SWN had obtained a court injunction ordering that it be allowed access to its vehicles and be allowed to carry out exploration work without harassment, but protesters were blocking its equipment inside a staging area along Route 134.

More than 300 RCMP officers moved to clear the protest camp. Police say Molotov cocktails — homemade explosive devices usually made using a glass bottle filled with a flammable liquid and a piece of cloth stuffed inside that is set on fire — were thrown at officers and six RCMP vehicles were burned.

Sgt Richard Bernard testified he drew up the plan to deal with the protesters a few weeks before the Oct. 17 raid.

The decision to take action was made on Oct. 16, he said.

The situation had become "more volatile" and protester demands were causing concern, said Bernard.

The courtroom fell silent as a video of the raid was played, CBC's Tori Weldon reported. It was the first time the nearly two-hour video was seen publicly.

It showed scenes of chaos, with yelling and screaming, dogs barking and a shot being fired.

Weather permitting, the trial will resume on Tuesday. It is expected to last about a week.