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A native protest against a shale-gas project in New Brunswick has exploded in violence, sending dozens of people to jail and reducing five police cars to smouldering ruins.
The clash between the RCMP and the Elsipogtog First Nation, north of Moncton, began early Thursday morning when a large number of officers arrived at a compound where SWN Resources Canada stores equipment. The police intended to enforce an injunction against a native blockade that has prevented SWN, a natural gas and oil exploration company, from conducting seismic testing.
The protesters refused the demands to disperse, and the confrontation devolved into a melee of tear gas and rubber bullets. In the end, at least 40 people, including Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock and several council members, had been arrested and five police cruisers had been set ablaze. The situation had calmed by early evening with news that Mr. Sock and some of the other protesters had been released.
“But nobody is leaving,” said Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief. “We don’t want shale gas here. We have been asking for consultations for three years now and nothing has happened. Instead they just put our people in jail.”
“I’m worried about the water and the future of my children,” said a 17-year-old boy who said he’d been at the protest for two weeks and had been camping in the bush.
The Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog have been staging demonstrations at the site throughout the summer, and there have been a number of previous arrests. The company obtained the court injunction earlier this month.
Although the compound is not on reserve land, it is on territory that the Mi’kmaq consider to be their traditional hunting ground, and they fear that SWN’s tests will lead to a fracking operation that will cause irreparable environmental damage to their community and the surrounding area.
The RCMP said it stepped in to enforce the injunction as a public safety measure. “There have been threats made to employees who were working with a private security firm at the site, as well as firearms offences, incidents of intimidation, mischief and other criminal behaviour,” Jullie Rogers-Marsh, an RCMP spokeswoman, said in a news release.
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