Nova Scotia

Province won't investigate rough arrest at gold mine meeting

The Province of Nova Scotia will not investigate the rough arrest of an attendee at a public meeting about a proposed gold mine unless that person files a complaint, several government ministers said Thursday.

Someone must file a complaint before any investigation occurs, ministers say

John Perkins was arrested at a public meeting about gold mining in Sherbrooke last week. (Scott Beaver)

The Province of Nova Scotia will not investigate the rough arrest of an attendee at a public meeting about a proposed gold mine unless that person files a complaint, several government ministers said Thursday.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil, Justice Minister Mark Furey and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette all repeatedly stuck to their message that if the man arrested wishes to file a complaint, there is a process for him to do that.

"I know there are people who aren't happy," McNeil said. "There is an avenue for those who feel that it was inappropriate to follow. I would encourage them to do that if they think something inappropriate happened."

Furey said the man who was arrested, John Perkins, is welcome to file a complaint with the Serious Incident Response Team, a body that investigates incidents involving police officers in Nova Scotia.

"I as the justice minister cannot intervene, nor would I intervene," Furey said. "It's inappropriate for me to intervene not knowing the circumstances."

Perkins said Thursday he hasn't made up his mind whether to file a complaint.

A Nova Scotia man says he's shaken and sore after he was arrested in a rough manner at a public meeting about gold mining in Sherbrooke, N.S., on Thursday evening. (Video from Scott Beaver) 6:22

Ministers haven't watched videos of arrest

On May 23, Atlantic Gold held two public meetings at the fire hall in Sherbrooke, N.S., to present information about tailings management. During the first meeting, members of the public, including Perkins, asked critical questions of the presenters.

Between the two sessions, a security officer working for Atlantic Gold approached Perkins and told him he had to leave. After a brief interaction in which Perkins backed away and questioned why he had to go, the RCMP were called and Perkins was forcibly removed.

Videos of the interaction have circulated widely on social media, but neither Furey nor Mombourquette have seen them, even one week later. It is unclear whether the premier has seen them.

Premier Stephen McNeil said he encourages anyone who feels the arrest was handled inappropriately to file a complaint. (CBC)

The RCMP said the company had called 911 to report that there were people causing a disturbance at the event. People who were at the meeting have told the CBC there was no disturbance, and videos of the prelude to the arrest show Perkins sitting in a chair when the police officer approaches him. 

Perkins was later released without charges.

In a statement sent to CBC News on Wednesday, an Atlantic Gold spokesperson said, "We regret how the May 23 meeting unfolded and are conducting an internal review to understand what happened. We are committed to learning from this and continuing a respectful dialogue with the community."

Asked whether Atlantic Gold should be charged with making an unwarranted or vexatious call to 911, the premier said that would be part of any investigation stemming from a complaint.

Company in negotiations for purchase deal

Atlantic Gold wants to dig an open-pit gold mine near the community of Sherbrooke on the Eastern Shore. The Cochrane Hill proposal is one of three the company has in various stages of the environmental assessment process. It already has a functioning gold mine at its Touquoy site in Moose River.

Earlier this month, Australian company St Barbara entered negotiations with Atlantic Gold to buy the Vancouver-based firm.

The Touquoy gold mine employs about 270 people. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Asked whether last week's incident could sour that deal, a spokesperson for St Barbara told the CBC in an emailed statement Wednesday that the two companies continue to work together to complete the transaction.

"We are aware of the event you refer to, and the company is liaising with Atlantic Gold to better understand the circumstances of the event, Atlantic's response and management of community relationships going forward. We understand that there have been numerous such community events previously without incident.

"St Barbara is strongly committed to transparent and respectful relationships with all of the host communities in which it operates, and our experience is that Atlantic Gold shares these values."

The spokesperson said the acquisition deal will be subject to approval by Atlantic Gold's shareholders as well as a final court order.

Calls for investigation

Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia, an environmental group that opposes the mine, and of which Perkins is a member, has called for a public inquiry into the incident.

The group has also asked for reassurance from Furey that it is safe for citizens to "engage in democratic, legal, peaceful forms of questioning and dissent around resource extraction issues without intimidation, the threat of police brutality or arbitrary surveillance."

On Tuesday, NDP MLA Lenore Zann wrote a letter to the premier and several ministers asking the province to look at Atlantic Gold's stakeholder engagement plan to assess whether the company violated its terms and, if it did, to issue a stop order.

"I would like government to send a message to this company and any others wishing to do business in Nova Scotia," she wrote. "'Open for business' should not mean 'at any cost' or 'at the expense of our citizens' rights and freedoms.'"

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About the Author

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

With files from Michael Gorman and Brett Ruskin

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