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New Brunswick Protest Turns Violent, Dozens Arrested

An anti-shale drilling protest in New Brunswick turned violent Thursday after authorities moved in to enforce an injunction to end an ongoing demonstration.

Meanwhile, several First Nations tribes across Canada took to the streets to show solidarity with the Elsipogtog First Nation, which has been involved in the unrest in New Brunswick.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said at least 40 people were arrested at the protest site near Rexton, NB, for firearms violations, uttering threats, intimidation, mischief and refusing to abide by the injunction, which was granted by the Court of Queen's Bench of New Brunswick on Oct. 3.

According to the RCMP, protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police vehicles and officers when they tried to clear the site. At least five vehicles were destroyed. The RCMP said it was also investigating suspected explosive devices at the scene, and said at least one shot was fired by someone other than the police.

"The RCMP has worked diligently with all parties involved in hopes for a peaceful resolution," RCMP Constable Jullie Rogers-Marsh said. "Those efforts have not been successful. Tensions were rising, and serious criminal acts [were] being committed."

The unrest began on Sept. 29 when protesters blocked the entrance to a facility used by Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN). The RCMP was forced to close Highway 134, which runs past the facility, after protesters had spilled into the road. The next day, protesters cut down trees and erected barricades to block both the highway and the SWN facility, where the company has vehicles and equipment.

Premier David Alward, cabinet ministers and members of the Elsipogtog First Nation began negotiations to end the standoff on Oct. 6 (see Shale Daily, Oct. 9).

SWN applied for an injunction against the protesters on Oct. 2. The court granted the injunction on Oct. 3 and extended it until Oct. 21 after the protesters had refused to move. A hearing had been scheduled for Friday to determine whether another extension was necessary (see Shale Daily, Oct. 17).

"There have been threats made to employees who were working with a private security firm at the site, as well as firearms offenses, incidents of intimidation, mischief and other criminal behavior," Rogers-Marsh said. "For those reasons, and to ensure public safety, police action was required."

Reports said several members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, including Chief Arren Sock, were among those arrested Thursday.

The RCMP said its officers remain at the scene to handle "a large gathering of protesters" and are continuing to monitor the events taking place there. They also established a wide perimeter around the protest site, closed Highway 134 at Rexton and a portion of nearby Highway 11.

For demonstrations to turn violent "is totally out of character here," one Canadian resident in the area told NGI. "There hasn't been anything like this for many, many years. It makes you wonder if there are outsiders who have come in that are causing this.

"There's a lot of sentiment in New Brunswick for preserving scenic areas and farmland, and mistrust that the conservative government won't properly protect the land," she said. "The sentiment is huge; there are a lot of educated activists and immigrants who came here to farm the land, who are concerned. But no one expected it would lead to violence. This is not typical at all."

She said the provincial government had researched rules for fracking in several U.S. states and adopted its own rules based on what was learned, "which they claim are more strict than any others. I don't know. I haven't read them, but people don't trust the government; they think it may be selling out to business interests."

According to reports, First Nations tribes across Canada have responded to the unrest in New Brunswick by staging their own protests. Incidents were reported in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba and western New Brunswick.

"We are in the early stages of an exploration program to determine the viability of future energy development [in New Brunswick]," SWN spokeswoman Christina Fowler told NGI on Friday. "These operations are being conducted in accordance with our license to explore granted by the province and with all local laws and regulations.

"We respect the right of all citizens to voice their beliefs and opinions, when conducted in a safe and lawful manner. SWN has been and will continue to work closely with local authorities and community leaders to conduct our operations safely and responsibly, and in full compliance with the laws of the country and province."

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