Photo via @Osmich
What started out as a peaceful demonstration held by members of First Nations tribes turned into what resembled a war zone after the RCMP showed up with guns, Tasers, and dogs yesterday in New Brunswick, leading to five police cars getting torched and 40 people being arrested on charges ranging from intimidation, uttering threats, and mischief.
The protesters had been blocking an entrance to a compound owned by SWN Resources since late September in protest of the oil company's plans to conduct seismic testing and potentially start fracking operations on tribal lands. On Thursday morning at around 7:30 AM, a squadron of heavily armed Mounties went in to break up the blockade, but the protesters I spoke to in the aftermath claimed that the cops were much too aggressive and seemed out to spread terror and bust heads in what amounted to an ambush.
“We had no idea this was going to be happening. They showed up with guns in our faces this morning. It was terrifying. They even brought dogs with them today, it was so scary and unbelievable,” said Susan Levi-Perf, a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe. "I have never seen anything like this in Canada in my lifetime—I’ve [only] seen it on TV."
Photo via @01LBrown
Susan said the Mounties used force even when the protesters were clearly nonviolent. “A lot of women were attacked in the front line. One woman was praying and was maced in the eyes," she said. "They were shooting our people with rubber bullets—and we were there with just our drums and eagle feathers.”
The police have claimed that they weren't the only ones firing shots, that the protesters were armed with Molotov cocktails, and that they were investigating suspected explosive devices. But Susan claimed that the escalation into violence could be laid squarely at the Mounties' feet.
“If the government had done their job and consulted us, this could have been prevented," she said. "As far as we knew there were still talks on the table and were going to appear in court tomorrow. We were getting ready for that.”
Earlier this month, Arren Sock, the chief of the Elsipogtog Tribe met with New Brunswick premier David Alward to discuss the blockade and fracking on native land, and these talks were supposed to continue. But Chief Sock was arrested during the crackdown on Thursday, leaving that in doubt.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, a national campaigner with Idle No More, an anti-fracking organization, confirmed in a phone interview Thursday night that Sock had been arrested and reiterated claims that the RCMP had used excessive force. “The chief and council have been arrested along with 40 other protestors. Police used Tasers, police dogs off the leash, rubber bullets, and beanbag [projectiles], as well as pepper spray against the indigenous people,” said Clayton.
On Thursday evening, Clayton told me there were still another 40 protestors behind the blockade, adding that at one point the RCMP would not allow an elderly man who had received severe burns during the violence to receive medical assistance.
Photo via Idle No More
On Twitter, multiple people shared photos of what appeared to be snipers in the grass and police cars on fire. “Snipers? The legitimate response to peaceful protest in Canada?" one user tweeted.
This wasn't the first time police clashed with protesters at the blockage—multiple people were arrested on September 30, shortly after the stand-off with the cops began. It will likely be the end of the demonstration, however. Today Susan is making her way to the courthouse in Moncton, New Brunswick, to try to get some of her compatriots out of jail.
Seismic testing of the sort that SWN wants to conduct has been done in other parts of New Brunswick for years and is known to have damaging affects on the environment. In August 2011 SWN had halted seismic testing after protests from the native community erupted. Back then, New Brunswick's Natural Resources Minister, Bruce Northrup, had said that SWN will resume testing at a later date—but it is unclear if that's still in the works.
For more photos of the protest and the violence, check out this Storify.