REXTON, N.B. – The RCMP say they arrested at least 40 people Thursday in eastern New Brunswick as a protest over shale gas development turned violent when officers began enforcing an injunction to end the demonstration.
At least five RCMP vehicles have been destroyed after they were set on fire, Molotov cocktails were thrown at officers, and at least one shot was fired by someone who isn’t a police officer, Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said in a statement.
“The RCMP has worked diligently with all parties involved in hopes for a peaceful resolution. Those efforts have not been successful,” Rogers-Marsh said.
“Tensions were rising, and serious criminal acts are being committed.”
The Mounties say the arrests were made for firearms offences, threats, intimidation, mischief and violating the court-ordered injunction to end the protest near Rexton.
The RCMP began enforcing the injunction at around 7:30 a.m. to end a the blockade of a compound where energy company SWN Resources stores exploration equipment. Route 134 at Rexton and Route 11 between Richibucto and Sainte-Anne-de-Kent were closed to traffic and schools in the area were closed early for the day.
The RCMP blocked Route 134 on Sept. 29 after a protest began spilling onto the road. Protesters subsequently cut down trees that were placed across another part of the road, blocking the entrance to the compound.
The protesters, who include members of the Elsipogtog (ell-see-book-took) First Nation, want SWN Resources to stop seismic testing and leave the province.
Robert Levi, a councillor with the Elsipogtog First Nation, said he went to the protest site in Rexton early Thursday after hearing the RCMP had moved in to begin enforcing the injunction against the protesters.
Levi said police pepper-sprayed dozens of people after 9:30 a.m. when he arrived with the chief and council.
“They sprayed the crowd that was there,” he said in an interview. “The chief was manhandled a little bit and all hell broke loose.”
Premier David Alward did not return messages seeking comment, but last week he and Chief Arren Sock agreed to set up a working group to find a resolution. Meetings were held in Fredericton and Moncton.
At the time, Alward said: “I can say that we have a consensus that we’re working towards finding a peaceful resolution and we will continue that work.” He said the working group, which would include members from his government, Elsipogtog and the energy industry, would begin its work immediately.
But Sock said there were still many details to be worked out.
Alward has said he doesn’t have control over decisions of the RCMP and SWN Resources.
Assistant commissioner Roger Brown, the commanding officer for the RCMP in New Brunswick, said last week he was disappointed that discussions between the provincial government and the First Nation had failed to resolve the issue. He said the Mounties would take a measured approach to resolving the situation.
Opponents of the shale gas sector say the process used to extract the resource — hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking — could pollute drinking water. But proponents of the industry say such concerns are overblown and don’t take into account the possibility of replacing coal and oil with cleaner burning natural gas.