MONTREAL – Protesters chanting anti-pipeline slogans forced the cancellation Monday of the first day of hearings in Montreal into TransCanada’s Energy East project.
The head of the hearings for the National Energy Board said the federal regulatory body will try to resume proceedings Tuesday.
“TransCanada will not pass,” screamed one protester as police dragged him away from a downtown conference room.
Police made three arrests. Two men aged 35 and 44 were charged with assaulting a police officer and with obstruction of justice, while a 29-year-old woman was charged with obstruction of justice.
The 35-year-old man remained detained as of early Monday afternoon, while the two others were released.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, along with the mayor of nearby Laval and other municipal representatives, walked out of the hearings not long after the demonstrators charged in.
Coderre was the first person scheduled to give testimony Monday but chose instead to leave, calling the protests a “masquerade.”
He and many provincial politicians and First Nations groups oppose TransCanada’s project to transport crude oil from Alberta to New Brunswick.
“There are too many problems we are witnessing to accept the project,” Coderre told reporters after he decided to leave Monday’s hearings.
“We’re saying the project (TransCanada) presented is wrong, it’s bad and we don’t have the answers. And frankly one of the main issues is contingency plans, everything regarding safety.”
Coderre asked last week for the hearings to be suspended after media reports revealed that two of the three NEB commissioners overseeing the review process met former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was at the time a lobbyist for TransCanada (TSX:TRP).
He said he wasn’t calling for the commissioners to resign, but that there was a perception of bias.
Nonetheless, Coderre said it was important for him to give testimony in order for the NEB and the rest of the country to appreciate the concerns of local citizens.
One of the anti-pipeline protesters, Kristian Gareau, entered the room and started chanting and clapping with the other protesters.
He said the entire NEB process is illegitimate because two of the commissioners had met with Charest.
“There is a perception of bias,” said Gareau, 36. “These two commissioners are part of this democratic institution, which has the sweeping power of a federal court.
“So a judge cannot go and meet with people in a back room. It just shows this smug elite privilege which is completely unacceptable.”
The hearings are set for this week in Montreal before moving to Quebec City the week of Oct. 3.