Photo via @Osmich
Violence broke out on Thursday morning and continued throughout the day in Rexton, New Brunswick (NB) after the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) showed up with guns, tasers and dogs at what started as a peaceful anti-fracking protest held by members of the First Nations, the various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis. Those on the front lines told me that the site ended up looking like a warzone and that five police cars were set on fire near a reserve, where protesters are trying to prevent a proposed shale gas development.
It seems that the main concern of the protesters is that allowing hydro-fracking will destroy their land and water, considering that shale gas works involve drilling vertically into the earth, increasing – among other things – the risk of earthquakes.
The compound where the protest has been taking place is owned by energy company SWN Resources, who – according to reports – had requested help from the Mounties to stop the protesters' blockade. In a press release, the New Brunswick RCMP said that at least 40 people have been arrested for various offences, including intimidation, uttering threats and mischief. But members of the First Nations are saying they were totally ambushed by the RCMP this morning, shortly after 7:30AM.
"We had no idea this was going to be happening," said Susan Levi-Perf, an onsite member of the Mi’kmaq First Nations who I spoke to over the phone. "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.
Photo via @01LBrown
"A lot of women were attacked in the front line," Susan continued. "One woman was praying and was maced in the eyes. I have never seen anything like this in Canada in my lifetime. Today, they had machine guns, they were dressed in camouflage and [they were] shooting at people holding feathers and drums."
She went on to say that, by the time the RCMP started to pack up at around 6PM, the area was totally destroyed. “If the government had done their job and consulted us, this could have been prevented," Susan told me. "As far as we knew, there were still talks on the table and we were going to appear in court tomorrow. We were getting ready for that."
Apparently, just last week the Elsipogtog First Nation Chief, Arren Sock, had met with the NB premier, David Alward, to discuss what to do next. Alward had allegedly pledged to keep talks going, but it doesn't appear that he's a much of a man of his word, as Chief Sock was one of those arrested and jailed during Thursday's violence.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, a national campaigner with indigenous-rights protest group Idle No More, confirmed in a phone interview last night that the chief had been arrested and that the RCMP had used excessive force. "The chief and council have been arrested, along with 40 other protesters," said Clayton. "Police used tasers, police dogs off the leash, rubber bullets and beanbag [projectiles], as well as pepper spray against the indigenous people."
Muller went on to say that, around 6PM on Thursday evening, 40 more demonstrators were still behind the blockade. He added that an elderly male protester had received severe burns and that the RCMP would not let anyone help him.
Photo via Idle No More
Unsurprisingly, Twitter also went wild, with people sending out pictures of police cars on fire and what appeared to be snipers hiding in the grass.
Back in August of 2011, SWN Resources had halted seismic testing after protests from the native community erupted. At the time, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup had said that SWN would resume testing at a later date – clearly Bruce didn't have his facts straight.
For ongoing developments we've put a Storify together below.