Nfld. & Labrador

Looking back on 7 days of unrest at Muskrat Falls

As the protest at Muskrat Falls enters its second sustained week, here is a look at the past seven days from the words of those involved.

As protest moves into second week, here is a look back at Week 1

Children cling to the fence outside the main gate of the Muskrat Falls work site. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Protests boiled over.

Arrests were made.

Emergency vehicles were blocked.

Hundreds of people were prevented from going to work, and the government moved on Nalcor to take action.

As the protest at Muskrat Falls enters its second sustained week, here is a look at the past seven days, from the words of those involved:

Saturday, Oct. 15

Andrea Anderson challenged protesters to be "more aggressive," when the demonstrations moved from the North Spur to the main gate. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Protests began in earnest on Sept. 30, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, before moving to the project's North Spur region.

On Saturday, however, the protests shifted to the main gate at the Muskrat Falls worksite.

One of the protesters, Andrea Anderson, said the demonstrators needed to be "more aggressive" in their tactics.

Sunday, Oct. 16

Emily Wolfrey is arrested during a protest in the early hours of Monday morning, while standing inside a designated safe zone for demonstrators. (The Independent/Youtube)

After demonstrators moved to the front gate, five women and three men were arrested on Sunday evening for blocking entry to the worksite.

A few hours later, Emily Wolfrey was arrested while yelling at an RCMP officer from inside a designated safe zone where protesters were allowed to stand.

Wolfrey was released the following afternoon, alleging bruises on her hand and arm were from the police's handling of her arrest.

Tuesday, Oct. 18

As protesters returned to camp after being released from jail, Billy Gauthier entered the fifth day of his hunger strike. (Katie Breen/CBC)

On Friday, Oct. 14, Inuk artist Billy Gauthier pledged to give up his own life if changes were not made to the flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir and began a hunger strike.

In an interview with Here & Now's Debbie Cooper the following Tuesday, Gauthier said he was feeling strong, despite only consuming water for the past five days.

Wednesday, Oct. 19

Environment Minister Perry Trimper announced the province's order to Nalcor to clear what they can before flooding. (Ted Dillon/CBC)
The day started with an order from the provincial government to force Nalcor to clear more forest before flooding the reservoir.

Any hope protesters had from the announcement vanished when they heard details of the order — clear as many trees as possible without getting behind schedule.

There was only a promise to assemble a panel of experts to look at removing the area's topsoil, the primary catalyst for production of toxic methylmercury, once flooding takes place.

Hours after Environment Minister Perry Trimper announced a clearing order for the Muskrat Falls reservoir, Nalcor's own environmental consultant said the order was ineffective. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Hours later, during a press conference at Nalcor headquarters in St. John's, the company's senior environmental consultant said the order was a small step towards prevention of rising mercury levels.

When asked if removing trees would have a major effect on curbing the methylation process, biologist Jim McCarthy paused before answering frankly.

Thursday, Oct. 20

After protesters widely rejected the province's demand for Nalcor to do more brush clearing, some invoked Justin Trudeau's message of truth and reconciliation. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The order from the province had fallen on deaf ears.

Protesters in Labrador, including Gauthier, widely rejected the order as being too passive.

Some appealed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step in and prove his dedication to truth and reconciliation.

A Muskrat Falls worker pleads with the protesters to let his co-workers go home. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Meanwhile, a group of workers waiting to get home to their families were barricaded inside the worksite by protesters.

One man stepped out into the crowd to appeal for the demonstrators to let his co-workers leave to catch flights and go home.

The crowd responded with a resounding rejection.

"No damn way, no damn way," they chanted.

While workers were eventually allowed to leave, nobody has been permitted entry to the site by the demonstrators. It is not known how many of the 685 employees from the Lake Melville area have not been able to go to work this week.

Friday, Oct. 21

Friday morning saw a dispute over letting a site ambulance through the main gate to transfer an injured worker to a hospital ambulance.

Protesters originally said the worker could be transferred outside the gate, and planned not to let the site ambulance back through. But staff and protesters came to an agreement, with the demonstrators deciding to let all emergency vehicles — ambulance, police and fire trucks — through "in the spirit of safety for all involved."

Author Lisa Moore, at Friday's sit-in at a Nalcor office in St. John's, said she is seeing a new level of cynicism with the current protests and the government's response. (Submitted)

Meanwhile, a group of protesters occupied a Nalcor office in St. John's to show solidarity with the main protest.

"We are sitting here today to declare that we will not stand for a government that knowingly floods and poisons people," read a press release from the group.

Author Lisa Moore, attending the sit-in, said she's seeing a "new kind of cynicism" in the government's response to the protests.

"To have [Natural Resources Minister] Siobhan Coady say, 'We respect the protectors and protestors but we're going to do it anyway,' how can those two phrases go together?" she said.

Dr. Gabe Woollam said people can live for several weeks without food, but a hunger strike is a very serious decision with a risk of death. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

And, as Gauthier's hunger strike entered its eighth day, the doctor keeping tabs on his condition told CBC that while people can live a long time without any food, hunger strikes are a very serious decision.

"There's a real possibility of death, or getting into very serious medical problems as your body starts to starve."