New Brunswick

Shale gas protesters react in disbelief to watchdog findings

Lorraine Clair, who reported being “brutalized” by the RCMP in 2013 while protesting against shale gas development in Kent County, says she’s appalled an investigation has concluded the Mounties did not use excessive force or demonstrate bias against Indigenous protesters.  

RCMP commission finds no bias against Indigenous protesters, no excessive force used in 2013 Rexton raids

Jimmy Pictou Jr. is gripped by a police officer during the shale gas protests in Rexton in 2013. An RCMP oversight commission found police officers did not use excessive force or exhibit bias against Indigenous protesters. (Submitted/Miles Howe)

Lorraine Clair, who reported being "brutalized" by the RCMP in 2013 while protesting against shale gas development on unceded Miꞌkmaq territory in Kent County, says she's appalled an investigation into public complaints against the police has concluded the Mounties did not use excessive force or demonstrate bias against Indigenous protesters. 

"I just wanted to vomit," said Clair, who had told her story to investigators. 

"It's like they're saying that we're lying and that none of this actually happened — that we didn't get thrown to the ground, we didn't get beaten, we didn't get racial slurs thrown at us." 

It's been years since the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission started interviewing 130 witnesses and gathering thousands of video files, and its completed report has yet to be made public. 

However, Michelaine Lahaie, a 30-year veteran of the Armed Forces who was appointed chair last year, did reveal some interim findings to groups in B.C. who filed similar complaints against the RCMP in connection with recent pipeline protests. 

RCMP officers came nose-to-nose with shale gas protesters on Route 134 in Rexton. (Jen Choi/CBC)

Lahaie informed the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs that their concerns were of significant public interest, but she said she would not proceed with a separate investigation because similar issues had been addressed already by the New Brunswick investigation. 

That report, she said, found that in general terms and with certain exceptions, RCMP members did not demonstrate bias in general, or engage in differential treatment of Indigenous protesters when making arrests.

'That's such bullshit'

The report also found that in most cases, the RCMP had reasonable grounds to arrest people for various offences, and the force they used was "necessary and proportional to the circumstances."

Clair said she'd like to see how they reached those conclusions. 

"That's such bullshit," she said.

She said the commission sent two men, neither of them Indigenous, to interview her at Elsipogtog First Nation about her experience with police.

Clair said she was hospitalized on two different occasions after being manhandled by the RCMP. 

On June 5, she said, she had to get a cast on her arm after being restrained and handcuffed with plastic ties that were wrenched so tightly, both of her wrists were bleeding. 

A photo from that time shows Clair standing next to Oasogatesg Augustine, who also required hospital treatment after being arrested.

Lorraine Clair, left, and Oasogatesg Augustine both told CBC News they suffered arm injuries while being arrested near Rexton. (Submitted/Lorraine Clair)

"I was sitting on the road beside the protest site to make sure some elders were OK," Augustine told the CBC. 

"I said, 'No, not until I know the elders are OK.' That's when four of the officers surrounded me, and one tried to lift me up by my hand after they handcuffed me."

Augustine said his arm was already fractured but then it broke during the incident. 

Lorraine Clair said she didn't stop protesting but went back to the site and was injured again on Nov. 14, 2013.

She said she had unplugged a geophone that was sending data to a vehicle gathering shale gas information on behalf of SWN Resources.

She said she then walked into the woods to go to the bathroom and an officer followed her into the trees.

She said he slammed her onto the ground and put the full force of his weight on his knee that was planted between her shoulder blades. 

"He told me to, 'Roll over, f--king bitch.'"

Clair, who said she was sexually abused as a kid, said that triggered intense fear and panic

"That was very traumatizing for me." 

Report recommendations

The report will also contain recommendations regarding the need for training and policy development with regard to Indigenous cultural matters and the handling of sacred items.

Overall, however, the commission found the RCMP did not, either deliberately or unwittingly, unnecessarily interfere with Indigenous ceremonies or sacred items.

Clair said that's not right. She said she saw many instances where police were disrespectful with valued objects such as feathers and drums and pipes and that they interfered with people in prayer. 

Jim Emberger testified to commissioners that the discrimination was blatant. 

A man with grey hair and a grey beard wears T-shirt in front of foliage and blue skies.
Jim Emberger of the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance testified that discrimination during the protests was blatant. (Submitted by Jim Emberger)

He said he witnessed Indigenous protesters being rounded up and arrested while non-Indigenous protesters were told to leave the area or were left alone. 

He said he was surprised to hear the report has called the violence necessary or proportional. 

"I guess it depends on what you consider to be appropriate violence," Emberger told CBC News.

"Nobody got killed. Nobody got shot.  But the presence of military troops with sniper rifles and the intimidation by the RCMP and the dogs surrounding a small encampment of Indigenous people … to me, that is more violence than is necessary."

Earlier this week, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she agrees with most of the recommendations in the report and 15 months after receiving it, the RCMP will provide its response this week.

In other findings, the commission said: 

  • Routine searches of vehicles and individuals entering protester camps were not authorized by law.
  • Blocking public and media access to roadways may have been unreasonable.
  • The RCMP had no legal authority to conduct stop checks for the purpose of information gathering.
  • The RCMP had no legal authority to require passengers to produce identification at check points.

Pamela Ross says she intends to read all 116 pages, including the 37 findings and 12 recommendations. 

Pamela Ross at the protest site near Rexton in 2013. (Submitted/Pamela Ross)

She spent months sleeping under the stars or in the back of a car to be near the protest camps. She strongly opposes fracking because she fears it will cause irreparable damage to the water table. 

She says the police need to change their "playbook" on how they respond to citizens without violating their rights. 

"They need to revamp this whole thing before they get to the next protest because you know it's coming."

"[Premier] Blaine Higgs wants to frack in New Brunswick. He said that, right after he got elected and assumed power."

"This will happen again. If they try to come back again into Kent County, it will happen again."