New Brunswick

Alton gas protesters occupy fisheries minister's office

Members of the Mi'kmaq community occupied Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc's office in Shediac, N.B., Friday, demanding Ottawa speed up the process to designate Bay of Fundy rivers and streams as critical habitat for salmon.

Mi'kmaq protesters say natural gas storage project in N.S. will endanger Bay of Fundy salmon

Protestors want to speed up the process to declare the Bay of Fundy and its rivers and streams a critical habitat for the Inner Bay of Fundy salmon. (Gabrielle Fahmy)

Opponents of the Alton natural gas storage project — many of them from the Mi'kmaq community — occupied Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc's office in Shediac, N.B., for much of the day Friday, as they demanded Ottawa speed up the process to designate the Bay of Fundy rivers and streams as critical habitat for the Inner Bay of Fundy salmon —an endangered species.

Protesters believe that plans to store natural gas in three underground salt caverns near Stewiacke, N.S., will lead to the release of salty water from drilling into the Shubenacadie River, which drains into the Bay of Fundy, and further endanger the salmon population.

"If a species goes extinct in this country, that's a shame on Canada," said Cheryl Maloney, councillor for the Shubencanadie band.

Maloney said the controversial project is slated to begin September 15.

"It's not just important to Mi'kmaq people. It's important to Nova Scotians, New Brunswick, Canadians," said Maloney.

"The Liberal government is coat-tailing on Harper's environmental policies. They removed all the protections and this government has not done anything to put them back in place."

"This is the last straw," said another member of the Mi'kmaq community. "We're fed up with the whole concept of being the canaries in the cage in the experimental process of the government."

Dozens of protesters occupied Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic Leblanc's office in Shediac for much of the day Friday. (CBC)

No 'imminent threat'

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said Friday the Alton gas project will go ahead as planned.  

"At this time, an opinion has not been formed that the Inner Bay of Fundy salmon is facing an imminent threat to survival or recovery," said Carole Saindon, a spokesperson for the Department. 

"An emergency order to protect the species has not been identified as necessary," said Saindon.

Saindon said Ottawa has recommended mitigation measures to avoid impacts to local fish species, and that the project is unlikely to result in "serious harm to fish."

The Mi'kmaq community said it is prepared to use "unconventional means" — including occupying the river — if Ottawa doesn't listen to their concerns and the project goes ahead.