Jul 142013
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Thirty arrested so far as tensions increase in New Brunswick protests.

by Dallas McQuarrie

On June 15, 63 RCMP officers arrested 12 protesters near Rogersville NB,  just after dawn. My wife Susan and I were among them. Like the Maliseet First Nation Elder who became my cell-mate, we were praying on the highway when arrested.

Susan and I are both senior citizens who have never been arrested before. A surreal moment occurred when an RCMP officer, who had taken my cane while I was on my knees praying, had to help me up before he could arrest me and put me in the paddy wagon.

Home to about 1200 people, Rogersville, New Brunswick is 90 kilometers north of Moncton on Highway 126. Nearby are two Trappist monasteries, noted for their silent retreats, and major tourist attractions like Kouchibouguac National Park and the world-famous Miramichi salmon fishery.  In what has become a summer of anger and frustration in rural New Brunswick, this year’s supper hour news shows have been full of reports about swarms of RCMP officers hauling people off to jail for protesting shale gas development.

In six weeks, more than 30 people have been arrested near Rogersville, amid RCMP warnings that Kent County is “getting dangerous.”

Why protest? People object to Texas-based SWN Resources conducting seismic tests and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in their region – that is, fracturing rock layers in order to extract shale gas. The industry has had catastrophic environmental consequences elsewhere, and many of us want no part of it here. The Gasland documentaries and television images of contaminated tap water bursting into flame haven’t helped shale gas promoters.

In six weeks, more than 30 people have been arrested near Rogersville, amid RCMP warnings that Kent County is “getting dangerous.” In late June, a gas company drill truck — used in seismic testing — burned during the night. Earlier that day, a shale gas protestor was injured by a gas company employee’s vehicle fleeing a crowd of angry residents.

Tensions between rural residents and the first-term Conservative provincial government of David Alward began ratcheting up in June when the province decided to get tough with protestors and ordered the RCMP to arrest them. Since the province contracts with the federal government for the RCMP to enforce the law provincially, protestors are angry that the Alward government decided to throw people in jail rather than talk with them.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Alward regime is saddled with a dismal economic record and facing an election next year. It has been touting shale gas with an evangelical fervor as the holy grail of economic development – but the public is not buying the party’s pitch to sell shale gas as a source of endless jobs and money.

A poll taken in May, before the arrests began, showed residents split on the question of whether shale gas was even important to New Brunswick, while an overwhelming majority felt the industry posed very serious environmental and public health threats.

The “Say NO to shale gas” protest has united English, French and First Nations peoples around a single issue, something rarely seen here. Many businesses have anti-shale gas signs in their windows. The Catholic church I attend in St Ignace (about 50 kilometers from Rogersville) has “Stop shale gas” signs on its doors. The New Brunswick College of Family Physicians is calling for a moratorium on shale gas development. The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has expressed serious concern. People clearly believe their doctors, not Premier Alward.

The New Brunswick College of Family Physicians is calling for a moratorium on shale gas development.

The opposition to shale gas is home grown. The protestors are the folks one sees at farmers’ markets every summer. Demonstrations seem like family reunions with parents, grandparents and children much in evidence, along with teachers from near-by schools, local business people, doctors, clergy, and even elected officials. Petitions, public rallies, and similar exhibitions of deep community opposition to shale gas are summarily dismissed by the provincial government whose dull mantra of “shale gas or recession” has become a tragic confession of their own lack of vision.

In June, the province deployed the RCMP to accomplish by force what it couldn’t achieve by political means. In early July, in a clumsy attempt to stifle daily-growing news coverage of the protest, RCMP arrested Halifax Media Co-op journalist Miles Howe. Howe had set up shop at the protestors’ camp and was able to witness and report on every arrest.

Conversely, the mainstream media have often been excluded from such scenes by RCMP officers closing roads and refusing to let them see the confrontations. The group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has issued a news release calling for charges against Howe to be dropped.

The Alward government and its gas company cronies are now using the RCMP as bully boys to intimidate ordinary people who are only trying to protect their families and communities. Clearly,  the Conservative government regards people here in one of the poorest areas of Canada as throwaways who can be pushed around with impunity. This summer is proving that assumption wrong.  

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