Two police vehicles torched, Oct 17, 2013.
Shale gas protesters and RCMP trying to enforce an injunction are clashing in Rexton, N.B., with the violence including two police vehicles that have been set on fire, and a report of the arrest of a First Nations chief [Update: at least 6 police vehicles have been torched and 40 arrested].
The clashes started at about 1 p.m. Thursday after police fired pepper spray at the protesters, who were trying to push through the police line.
CBC reporter Tori Weldon said it sounded as if shots were fired, although that hasn’t been confirmed.
The police vehicles set on fire are a cruiser and one that is unmarked, according to another CBC reporter, Jennifer Choi. She said thick black smoke is billowing from the scene, and she could hear popping and see sparks in at least one of the flaming vehicles.
It wasn’t known whether ammunition was in the vehicles, and bystanders are backing up from the fire as a precaution, Choi said.
T.J. Burke, the lawyer for the Elsipogtog First Nation, confirmed Chief Arren Sock has been arrested.
Members of chief and council arrested, Oct 17, 2013.
Sock is the leader of the band that has been blockading Route 134 near Rexton since Sept. 30.
On Oct. 1, Sock issued an eviction notice to SWN Resources of Canada. His band and his band council planned to pass a resolution preventing the government and shale gas companies from continuing the work by reclaiming all unoccupied reserve land and giving it back to First Nations.
It remained unclear exactly which land is involved, and how the band council planned to take it back, but Sock contended getting SWN to remove its equipment would be a start.
Sock said that for centuries, the British Crown claimed to be holding the land in trust for his people, but since the land is being badly mismanaged, First Nations people are taking it back.
Highway blocked for weeks
The RCMP moved in on the protesters on Route 134 in Rexton early Thursday, to enforce a court injunction issued on Oct. 3 against demonstrators who have been blocking a highway for weeks.
RCMP notified the public at 7:45 a.m. about the closure of Route 134. A subsequent notice at 8:21 a.m. indicated Highway 11 was closed between Rexton and Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, and that delays could be expected.
A line of RCMP vehicles burns during clashes in Rexton, NB, Oct 17, 2013.
“I can confirm police are enforcing a court injunction and in order to ensure public safety, we have closed the road until it is resolved,” said RCMP spokesperson Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh.
“The road will remain closed until the situation has been resolved and certainly public safety is our No. 1 priority at this point.
“I can’t confirm resources and I can’t confirm numbers,” she said.
She also couldn’t confirm if shots were been fired or if there had been any arrests, and couldn’t say if any other organizations are assisting the RCMP.
Police, canine unit move in
Video taken by protesters that was submitted to CBC shortly after the police started enforcing the injunction shows officers with dogs moving toward the protest encampment on the side of road. Protesters are yelling obscenities at police and inform them elders and children are present.
Meanwhile, an Anglophone North school district notice on its website said three schools in the area were open under lockdown conditions as a precaution. Around noon, the board announced Rexton Elementary, Eleanor W. Graham Middle School and Bonar Law Memorial High School would close for the day, and students would be sent home.
RCMP pepper spray crowd at blockade, Oct 17, 2013.
Buses were being organized, and any parents wanting to pick up their children could report to the school office.
“Safety and security is paramount for our students and staff,” said the school district’s public notice.
The road between Rexton and Highway 11 has been the scene of the protest, involving a coalition of natives and non-natives opposed to shale gas exploration.
Protesters moved into the area on Sept. 30, initially establishing a barricade to the staging area used by SWN Resources Canada to park its exploration vehicles and equipment.
The protest progressed to the point where barricades were also established on the road, preventing traffic from going through.
SWN Resources went to the Court of Queen’s Bench and successfully sought an injunction to end the protest.
The injunction authorizes police to arrest and remove anyone contravening the order to allow traffic to pass on the highway for SWN Resources employees to access their vehicles and conduct exploration work without harassment. However, with negotiations taking place between the two sides, the RCMP didn’t immediately enforce the injunction.
On Friday, the injunction was extended. A single lane of Route 134 was subsequently reopened.
During a hearing, court was told SWN Resources is losing $60,000 every day its seismic exploration trucks remain blockaded in the compound off Route 134.