Beatrice Hunter released from jail, allowed to protest outside Muskrat Falls gate

After 10 days of incarceration in a men's prison for refusing to obey a court order, Beatrice Hunter has been released.

'I obviously don't want to go back to jail, but at least I can protest with my people'

Beatrice Hunter appears in provincial court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Friday, after spending more than a week behind bars at HMP in St. John's. (Katie Breen/CBC)

After 10 days of incarceration in a men's prison, Muskrat Falls protester Beatrice Hunter has been released from custody.

Hunter appeared before the Supreme Court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Friday where a judge agreed to modify the conditions of her undertaking — a promise given in court — allowing the Inuk woman to come within a kilometre of the Muskrat Falls site.

Hunter, 48, was jailed last week after refusing to promise to stay a kilometre away from the Labrador construction site, violating an undertaking she signed last fall.

Friends and family of Hunter's cheered both inside and outside the courtroom Friday, as they waited for her release.

"It [shows] how fearless we are, how resilient we are and that there's nothing we can't do," Hunter told CBC News upon release.

"I obviously don't want to go back to jail, but at least I can protest with my people." 

Hunter is said to have attended a protest across from the main gate — less than one kilometre from the worksite — over the Victoria Day long weekend.

She was called to court May 29 to answer to that allegation.

When Hunter wouldn't promise to stay away, Justice George Murphy said the court had no choice but to take Hunter into custody.

On Friday, Murphy said his decision to change the terms of Hunter's undertaking came "with some reluctance and concern," and he warned Hunter that she will be immediately arrested if she blocks access to the site.

It was my way of defying laws that my ancestors had no part in writing.- Beatrice Hunter

Removing the undertaking allows Hunter to attend peaceful protests across from the main gate.

"I was defiant of the court system because I know our ancestors had no say in how those laws were written," Hunter said.

"If you've noticed, every time I've gone to court I haven't stood up every time a judge walked in. It was my way of defying laws that my ancestors had no part in writing."

In an interview earlier this week, Beatrice Hunter said guards at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's have been 'excellent' with her. (Gary Quigley/CBC)

While the judge said he didn't like putting Hunter into custody in the first place, he said "we can't have people simply picking and choosing which orders they're going to obey ... the court merely wants compliance with its orders."

While in custody, Hunter was held at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's, a men's prison which has been used as an overflow facility for the women's correctional centre in Clarenville.

The court system definitely knows how to make you feel alone.- Beatrice Hunter

Once released, Hunter thanked "the female inmates at HMP who took care of me while I was in jail," as well as the group of protesters who call themselves the Labrador Land Protectors. 

"The court system definitely knows how to make you feel alone," she said.

Hunter first signed the undertaking, agreeing to the one-kilometre buffer, last fall after occupying the megaproject work site alongside about 50 other protesters. 

Murphy said other protesters who signed the agreement will have to apply separately to have it lifted. 

Now, Hunter is looking forward to spending time with family and friends, and said it's too soon to talk about returning to the site.

"I'm only going to take this one day at a time."

Supporters of Beatrice Hunter gathered outside the court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Friday morning before Hunter appeared before a judge. (Katie Breen/CBC)

In a statement Friday afternoon, Nalcor Energy said it recognizes the "need and right" to express concerns about Muskrat Falls through "lawful protest."

The statement went on to say, "We understand there are people who feel strongly about the Muskrat Falls Project. We would like to meet with Ms. Hunter and her representatives to establish a dialogue and work with them to better understand each other."

A court injunction preventing protesters from blocking access to the site is still in place.