REXTON, N.B. – The chief of the Elsipogtog (ell-see-book-took) First Nation in New Brunswick is criticizing the RCMP for its conduct last week in controlling a protest against shale gas exploration, promising his community will continue to oppose the industry’s development in the province.
Arren Sock says every effort will be made to keep its opposition peaceful after 40 people were arrested and weapons seized when the Mounties enforced a court-ordered injunction Thursday to end the blockade of a compound near Rexton, where SWN Resources stored exploration equipment and vehicles.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is in New Brunswick to show his support for the band and described the Mounties’ actions last week as the violent use of state power.
Assistant commissioner Roger Brown, the Mounties’ commanding officer in the province, has defended the police response, saying officers seized firearms and improvised explosive devices that were a threat to public safety.
Six police vehicles including an unmarked van were burned and Molotov cocktails were tossed at police, who fired non-lethal beanbag type bullets and used pepper spray to defuse the situation.
Sock says no decisions have been made on how the band will proceed but he expects a meeting later this week with Premier David Alward, whose government believes shale gas exploration can be done while protecting the environment and encouraging economic growth.
On Sunday morning, about 50 people gathered in the rain at the protest site on Route 134. Protesters on Highway 11 in Rexton set up a blockade Saturday for a short period of time.
Sock was among those arrested last week. Police say the arrests were for firearms offences, threats, intimidation, mischief and violating the injunction.
The RCMP blocked Route 134 three weeks ago after protesters began spilling onto the road. Protesters then cut down trees and placed them across another part of the road, blocking the entrance to the company’s equipment compound.
The protesters want SWN Resources to stop seismic testing and leave the province. The company says it’s only in the early stages of exploration in New Brunswick.