By Jorge Barrera, APTN National News
Late Monday evening, after the tires were set on fire, a group of anti-fracking demonstrators round danced against a backdrop of flames in the middle of a New Brunswick highway while they waited for the RCMP to respond.
The tires were set alight in the late afternoon around the same time a New Brunswick court judge in the provincial capital of Fredericton granted an extension to an injunction against the demonstrators for 14 more days.
(A round dance by flaming tires on Hwy 11. Photo courtesy of Candi Simon)
An increasing drumbeat of eye-witness reports from the area late Monday evening indicated that the RCMP was ramping up its numbers in preparations to move on the blockade.
There was also a report from an eye-witness that a total of three fires had been lit on Hwy 11 in the same vicinity.
SWN Resources Canada, a Houston-based energy firm, asked for the injunction arguing weather and protests had slowed down the last phase of its shale gas exploration work. Its previous injunction was set to expire at midnight.
The flaming tires on Hwy 11 followed a day of heated confrontation near Richibucto, NB, where SWN Resources Canada had been trying to continue its exploration work for shale gas deposits.
Richibucto is about 83 kilometres north of Moncton and sits at the place where the Richibucto River flows into Richibucto Harbour which links to Northumberland Strait.
Videos from the scene showed lines of RCMP officers pushing groups of demonstrators off the highway. The RCMP officers would shout “move” as they tried to force the demonstrators into the ditches.
It’s unclear how many people were arrested during the day. APTN National News has been able to confirm at least five arrests from eye-witness accounts.
(RCMP arrest a man on Hwy 11 earlier in the day Monday. Photo courtesy of David Goodswimmer)
Two young Mi’kmaq men were arrested during the afternoon.
Judd Poulette and his friend, who goes by the aka “Soda Pop,” said they were taken to the Shediac RCMP detachment.
Poulette said RCMP officers stomped on his knuckles and they swelled to the point paramedics had to visit the holding cell to drain them.
“They were stomping me while I got arrested for walking an elder on the side of the road,” said Poulette, after his release.
The J-Division RCMP media relations officer did not return repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment and confirmation of the day’s events.
While RCMP units from other provinces, including Saskatchewan and Quebec, are in New Brunswick to bolster the police presence there, J-Division continues to command the ongoing operation.
APTN National News has relied on videos, photographs and eye-witness testimony to piece together the day’s events.
As of this article’s posting, the anti-fracking demonstrators were attempting to maintain a permanent blockade of Hwy 11.
“This is a permanent blockade, everybody is sick and tired of this,” said one Elsipogtog First Nation resident from the scene.
The Mi’kmaq from Elsipogtog have been leading the fight against SWN for months and their strength has been bolstered by supporters from the Acadian and Anglophone communities in the region.
The current blockade is about 18 km northeast of Elsipogtog.
Several Acadians have been arrested over the past few days in relation to the ongoing demonstrations.
APTN National News contacted one of the demonstrators involved in the blockade who said the tires where set on fire in response to RCMP tactics and the incident involving the truck and three women demonstrators.
The RCMP had managed to surround the demonstrators on the highway several times.
“They got some of our people blocked in a little ways so we’re gonna block them,” said one of the demonstrators, an Elsipogtog community member.
One of the trucks involved with SWN’s exploration work bumped into three women on the highway, according to two eye-witnesses.
SWN has also been using contractors during its exploration work.
The witnesses said the demonstrators tried to stop a white truck which was driving at a low speed on the highway. The witnesses said the truck sped up and hit one woman. A second woman ran over to the truck and was also bumped. While a man began yelling at the driver, the truck bumped into a third woman.
The witnesses said two of the women were taken to hospital with bruises. The incident did not cause any life-threatening injuries.
“And all through this the (driver) was smiling away,” said one witness. “The cops were right there and they said they didn’t see anything.”
The incident created a firestorm on social media which was compounded by a hit and run in Montreal at a protest in support of Elsipogtog’s battle with SWN. There, a small SUV plowed through a group of demonstrators with one man clinging to the hood of the vehicle for several metres before falling to the street.
The day also saw several banner drops in Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton in support of Elsipogtog, along with an hour-long blockade at the federal Vancouver port terminal and protests in Halifax and Ottawa.
SWN has faced ferocious opposition to its exploration for months.
Elsipogtog residents fear the discovery of shale gas will lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and pose a threat to the area’s water.
Their concerns are also shared by non-First Nation people from the surrounding communities who have been supporting their demonstrations and the various camps set up to counter SWN’s exploration work.
Heavily-armed RCMP tactical units raided an anti-fracking camp on Oct. 17 that was blocking SWN’s exploration vehicles in a compound in Rexton, NB. About 40 people were arrested after a day of violent confrontation between Elsipogtog residents and the RCMP.
The RCMP said officers seized three rifles, ammunition and crude explosives from the campsite. The police also freed SWN’s vehicles.
Premier David Alward has signaled he wants to see the protests broken, calling the current conflict on Hwy 11 a “beachhead” that could determine the fate of other energy projects slated to hit the province.
TransCanada is planning to build a pipeline to Saint John, NB, that would carry Alberta mined bitumen to an expanded terminal owned by Irving Oil. Irving Oil executives have been quoted in news reporters saying shale gas would provide a cheap source of energy for the firm to process the additional bitumen coming from Alberta.
Irving Oil is owned by the Irving family which also owns JD Irving Ltd. JD Irving owns Industrial Security Ltd. which provides security for SWN.
Irving Oil and JD Irving are independent companies, run separately.