Shale gas company loses bid for injunction to halt N.B. protests
SWN Resources Canada says protesters are impeding exploration activities
A request by SWN Resources Canada to extend a court injunction that prevents anyone from impeding its staging area and and storage facility near, Rexton, N.B., has been denied by a judge.
Justice George Rideout ruled Monday afternoon that there were no grounds to extend the injunction, after hearing arguments in the Court of Queen's Bench on Friday.
Shale gas opponents, many from Elsipogtog First Nation, were drumming and singing in the courtroom and hallway before the ruling, and outside Moncton Law Courts.
"People are just overjoyed," CBC's Stephen Puddicombe said at the court. "There's been several occasions where people have literally broken down in tears and hugs. They cannot believe the news they've just heard."
Rideout said in his written decision that the company now has access to its equipment and the roadblock has stopped, so the injunction warning protesters not to interfere or attempt to interfere by force, threats, coercion, or roadblocks no longer applies.
He wrote that, even in the original injunction, people always had the right to voice their objections and carry "limited signage," so long as they didn't impede SWN's access to highways, roadways and its operations.
"Other protests may arise but it is my view that this court ought not speculate as to what may happen and what steps the court should take to prevent certain speculated activity."
Bail hearings postponed
The court building was also crowded with supporters of protesters arrested on Thursday during a confrontation between RCMP and shale gas opponents in Rexton, N.B.
On Thursday, 40 protesters were arrested in Rexton after RCMP moved in on the encampment the protesters had established near Route 134 on Sept. 30.
Six of those arrested were held in jail through the weekend out of concern they would flee the area, or be involved in a revival of the protest.
They were scheduled to have bail hearings before provincial court Judge Denis Lordon on Monday, but those hearings were delayed until Tuesday and Wednesday at the request of defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux, who said he needs more time to go over new evidence that was presented by the Crown.
The six face a total of 37 charges: including mischief, threats, and obstructing a peace officer, in relation to last week's clash between police and protesters.
Original injunction issued Oct. 3
The original injunction ordering that SWN Resources be allowed to carry on its exploration was issued on Oct. 3. But no action was taken by RCMP to enforce the court order as negotiations were taking place between representatives of the provincial government, Elsipogtog, and the coalition of native and non-native protesters.
An extension to the injunction was authorized on Oct. 10, with an expiry date of Oct. 21.
The court order included requirements to remove barricades on Route 134 and to allow SWN access to the shale gas exploration vehicles and equipment it had located in a compound off Route 134. SWN Resources was able to remove its vehicles and equipment Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Assembly of First Nations' Chiefs in New Brunswick is calling for the provincial government to suspend shale gas exploration permits issued to energy companies until a peaceful solution to the dispute can be negotiated.
Assembly co-chair George Ginnish said such a step would be part of the "cooling off period" agreed to last week between Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock and Premier David Alward in the wake of Thursday's violent protest confrontation in Rexton.
"We have been saying that this process has been rushed from Day 1," said Ginnish, chief of Eel Ground First Nation. "There is concern in many areas, not just the First Nations.
"We have a cooling off period and we think part of that cooling off period needs to involve getting back to the table and looking at the concerns we have had from the start."
Up until now, the Assembly of New Brunswick Chiefs has maintained a more neutral position in the shale gas debate.
Speaking at a news conference in Elsipogtog on Monday, Sock thanked the assembly for the new-found support and encouraged people to peacefully press for a halt to exploration.
"We are peaceful people and what we want is to protect the water for all of us," said Sock. "I encourage everyone who cares about the land to keep making your voices heard in a safe, loving and yet loud voice, if need be."
SWN Resources Canada has been exploring for potential shale gas development sites under a permit issued by the province. But beginning Sept. 30, a coalition of native and non-native protesters blockaded the company's seismic exploration trucks in a compound used by the company off Route 134. SWN Resources had earlier told a Court of Queen's Bench hearing that the blockade of equipment was costing it $60,000 a day.
Protesters concerned about groundwater
The protesters are concerned about any potential impact of shale gas extraction on the groundwater supply. Hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting a mixture of sand, chemicals and water into the earth under high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas held within the shale that is otherwise inaccessible.
Ginnish said it's time for the provincial government to consult with the aboriginal community about shale gas development.
"We've been telling the government of New Brunswick the consultation process hasn't been working for three years," said Ginnish.
"We need time and information to understand how the industry will affect our rights," he said.
"Our people are unconvinced the industry is actually safe."
N.B. RCMP head hopes for cooler heads
The commanding officer of the RCMP in New Brunswick said he hopes cooler heads will prevail as the protests continue.
Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown said the force his members used on Thursday was justified, measured and restrained. He said pepper spray and riot gear only came out after people began crossing the line police had set up and police cars were set on fire.
"The political side is not our role," he said. "Our role is to keep the peace, and I ask the question every single day: What would the general public expect of me? The general public expects me to enforce the law in a way that's fair. Sometimes waiting is appropriate and sometimes action is appropriate."