Nfld. & Labrador

Protesters arrested at Muskrat Falls site released

Opponents of a plan by Nalcor to flood the Muskrat Falls reservoir say they will continue to protest, but the company says it has to increase water levels to prevent ice from forming downstream.

The protests began Saturday in Labrador, and expanded Monday into government offices

Opponents of planned flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir staged a sit-in protest at the Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Monday. 0:30

Nine people arrested during protests at the Muskrat Falls site in Labrador were released with conditions Monday.

The six women and three men are charged with disobeying a court order to leave the site, where they were protesting the planned reservoir flooding at the hydroelectric project.

While the protesters have been ordered to stay clear of the entrance to the worksite, they are allowed to be on the other side of the road.

Nalcor said in a news release Monday afternoon it can begin raising water levels in the Churchill River above Muskrat Falls at any time, first to 25 metres and than to 39 metres by 2019.

RCMP arrested eight protesters Monday morning at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric site in Labrador. The protesters had been at Muskrat Falls since Saturday. They have been served with an injunction. 1:26

"In the absence of creating the upstream reservoir and controlling the river, the downstream ice will form and dam as it has historically occurred," wrote Gilbert Bennett, executive vice-president of power development for the Lower Churchill project.

Controlling the flow of the river, he said, will stabilize conditions downstream of the spillway. "This will prevent damage to the facility from flooding and ice creation."

Protesters are on the side of the Trans Labrador Highway across from Muskrat's main gate because they say the RCMP have told them gathering there is OK. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The protests started over the weekend, as people made a final effort to prevent Nalcor from flooding the reservoir, which some fear could lead to methylmercury poisoning in humans and wildlife.

Work was back to normal at the Muskrat Falls project as of Monday morning, with buses bringing workers onto the site.

"The protection of human health remains our government's utmost priority," said Perry Trimper, the minister of environment, in a news release.

He said Nalcor will set up its water monitoring program as flooding begins. 

In the meantime, government is putting together an independent expert advisory committee to discuss clearing of vegetation from the reservoir. Representatives from Indigenous groups in Labrador are being invited to be a part of that process.

Not giving up

"I believe there is still time to make things right," said Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut Community Council, at a news conference late Monday morning.

Todd Russell, the president of NunatuKavut Community Council, said Monday he would support protesters at the Muskrat Falls site, and dismissed a court injunction against the protests. 0:24

Russell said there is no way to stop people from protesting and exercising their right to speak and assemble.

"We condemn the recent arrests which shows again the heavy handed tactics of Nalcor," he said.

I believe there is still time to make things right.- Todd Russell

"In this country people are allowed to speak, people are allowed to protest, people are allowed to be on their traditional land."

Protesters also gathered at the Confederation Building in St. John's Monday morning to show their solidarity with those protesting in Labrador.

Protesting at local offices

About 20 people gathered at the Labrador Aboriginal Affairs office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Monday morning as well. The building was closed for the day around 11:30 a.m.

About 20 people gathered at the Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs Office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay early Monday morning. (Katie Breen/CBC)

According to the injunction, protesters don't have to go on site to get arrested. It also states that encouraging or aiding the protest is a criminal offence. 

Protesters have asked that the document be translated into Inuktitut and Innu-aimun. They also want a translator to come to the site to explain the situation in those languages. 

Page one of the court order served to protesters at Muskrat Falls. (Katie Breen/CBC)

With files from Katie Breen and Jacob Barker