Canada’s RCMP Brutalize Indigenous People for Opposing Fracking on Their Land

RCMP bring 60 drawn guns, dogs, assault rifles, to serve injunction on the wrong road

After van, main blocker, removed the night before, RCMP seem hell-bent for violence in early dawn encounter with Warriors

By Miles Howe


War Chief Seven Bernard wasunarmed, outmanned and off the path of SWN's injunction. Was any of this necessary? [Photo: Miles Howe]

War Chief Seven Bernard wasunarmed, outmanned and off the path of SWN’s injunction. Was any of this necessary? [Photo: Miles Howe]
Grappling with a young Warrior. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Grappling with a young Warrior. [Photo: Miles Howe]

Elsipogtog youth runs in fear as RCMP descend into madness. [Photo: Miles Howe]

Elsipogtog youth runs in fear as RCMP descend into madness. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Far from the Mi'kmaq's last stand. District War Chief Jason Augustine faces down the barrels of 20 pistols. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Far from the Mi’kmaq’s last stand. District War Chief Jason Augustine faces down the barrels of 20 pistols. [Photo: Miles Howe]

Moncton, New Brunswick – I have been camping at the current blockade along highway 134 since the inception of the encampment, filing almost daily reports for the Media Coop. During June and July of this year, when protests against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick were of far less national interest, I was doing the same.

Around 6 am yesterday morning, October 17th, RCMP forces again blocked off both sides of the anti-shale gas encampment along highway 134, this time with an as-yet-unseen amount of police force. For numerous days prior, RCMP were allowing first walking traffic, then one lane of automobile traffic, to pass freely through the blockaded area. Anti-shale activists, as a measure of good faith, and in deference to emergency vehicles in particular, had days earlier removed two felled trees that had completely blocked off vehicular traffic.

The move, of course, allowed traffic flow to resume to near normal. It also allowed unhindered access to RCMP, who as it will be made clear were scouting out the area and making plans for an ultimate take-down of the traffic-slowing, but completely peaceful, protest.

Yesterday, I first heard that the roads were blocked off by someone screaming in a tented area near the entrance gate to the compound that housed SWN Resources Canada’s seismic testing equipment, in the vicinity of where I was camped. At the time, I was asleep.

I could hear police beginning to identify themselves, and a rustling through the trees that suggested numerous bodies moving around. RCMP, I surmised, were everywhere, and the always-possible event of the RCMP serving SWN’s injunction against blocking their equipment was upon us.

SWN, the Texas-based gas company, had earlier been given a ten-day extension to their injunction against the encampment, due to expire on October 21st. We had heard that the injunction had been printed in Irving-owned newspapers. Due to Irving’s collusion with SWN (the compound in which SWN’s equipment was housed, for example, is Irving-owned), there had been something of a ban on Irving newspapers. We had also been advised by various sources that peace would remain at the encampment until at least Friday, October 18th, when a public hearing against the injunction was set to occur at the Moncton courthouse.

Clearly not.

I grabbed my car keys and ran the 100-odd metres towards the Mi’kmaq Warrior encampment.

What I saw was surprising.

The ditch opposite me was already filled with 20-odd police in tactical blue uniforms, pistols already drawn. Three police officers dressed in full camouflage, one with a short-chained German Shepherd, were also near the ditch.

In the far field, creeping towards the Warrior encampment – which was comprised of one trailer and about ten tents – were at least 35 more police officers. Many of these wore tactical blue and had pistols drawn. At least three officers were wearing full camouflage and had sniper rifles pointed at the amassing group. The Warriors, for their part, numbered about 15.

Through a police loudspeaker towards the highway 11 off-ramp, an officer began reading the injunction against the blocking of SWN’s seismic equipment. This was all before dawn.

Still in the pre-dawn dark, about seven molotov cocktails flew out of the woods opposite the police line stationed in the ditch. I cannot verify who threw these cocktails. They were – if it matters – lobbed ineffectively at the line of police and merely splashed small lines of fire across the road. A lawn chair caught fire from one cocktail. Two camouflaged officers then pumped three rounds of rubber bullet shotgun blasts into the woods.

Shortly after, three so-called warriors with a journalist in tow – who claim to have arrived two nights ago from Manitoba – appeared to have determined that the situation was too extreme for them. Two of them have since been identified as Harrisen Freison and ‘Eagle Claw’. They promptly ran down the road towards the far end of the police blockade. Until last night no one had ever seen these individuals before.

About ten minutes later, with tensions now becoming highly escalated between the encroaching line of police in the field adjacent to the encampment and the Warriors now on a public dirt road, two officers approached Seven Bernard, chief of the Warrior Society. They attempted to serve Bernard with SWN’s contentious injunction. Dozens of guns from all angles were pointed at all of us.

Seven Bernard began to walk away from the officer attempting to serve him the injunction. If it matters, the officer in question was the same Sergeant Rick Bernard who had earlier in the summer arrested me on charges of threats and obstruction of justice – both of which amounted to nothing and were subsequently dropped.

Sergeant Bernard threw the injunction at his namesake, saying: “Consider yourself served.”

I could hear the RCMP surrounding us speaking about someone having a gun. I did not see any Warrior carrying a firearm. I can say with certainty, however, that no live round was ever fired by the Warrior side. If, as the RCMP are now claiming, a single shot was discharged, it was not from this altercation.

Before continuing, it is important to note that the Warrior encampment was on government – or Crown – land. Crown land, legally, is being held for Canada’s indigenous people, in this case the Mi’kmaq people. Through negligence of the Crown, this is often forgotten, especially by Canada’s non-indigenous populations.

Equally as forgotten is the fact that none of Canada’s Maritime provinces are ceded land. The Crown is tied to the original indigenous inhabitants – and their land – through treaties of peace and friendship. Nothing more.

It is also important to note that the entire encroaching police formation was focused on a group of about 15 Warriors, all of whom were now on a public dirt road, away from SWN’s so-called blockaded equipment.

The injunction was meant to focus on protestors blocking access to SWN’s equipment on highway 134. All of the subsequent arrests at this end of the altercation were made on Hannah Road.

With RCMP forces having entirely overwhelmed any remaining activists at the compound gate, the question must be asked:

Why focus on a small band of Warriors, clearly away from all of SWN’s equipment and entirely incapable of reforming a blockade, with over 60 guns of various calibre drawn on them?

Indeed, a van belonging to one Lorraine Clair from Elsipogtog First Nation had the evening before been removed from the compound gate. It was the main blocking factor to SWN’s – or anybody’s, really – access to their equipment.

Tensions at this stand-off further escalated when a group of Elsipogtog youth began running up the dirt road towards the Warriors, and police. It is unclear how the youth, on foot, had managed to come up a back road towards a highly volatile situation. The police attempted to halt the approaching youth, for what reason is unclear.

Mi’kmaq Warrior Suzanne Patles, in a last-ditch attempt to defuse a situation now spiralling into a screaming match with police guns pointing in every direction, ran into the middle of the field screaming: “We were given this tobacco last night!”

Now crying, in her hand she held a plug of tobacco, provided to her by RCMP negotiators wrapped in red cloth as a traditional token of peace the night before.

Skirmishes then broke out in every direction. From the highway side, District War Chief Jason Augustine was being chased by numerous police. In front of me, everywhere really, Warriors were being taken down by numerous RCMP officers in various clothes. Rubber bullet shots were fired by the RCMP, and both Jim Pictou and Aaron Francis both claim that they were hit – in the back and leg respectively.

I continued to try photographing what had quickly become a chaotic scene until one officer in camouflage and assault rifle pointed at me, saying: “He’s with them. Take him out!”

I was taken to the ground and arrested.

Myself and approximately 25 individuals then spent a varying amount of time at the Codiac detention centre. Some of us, apparently on a haphazard basis, were provided blankets and mattresses. Others spent about 20 hours on hard concrete.

At about 12am, I was taken for fingerprinting and told my charge would be obstruction of justice, for running at an altercation (taking photographs all the while, mind you). I was refused release when I could not procure a $500 note of promise.

An hour later, I was brought back to the release desk. My charge was now mischief, with conditions to stay 1 kilometre away from SWN’s equipment and personnel.

I refused to sign these documents at this point, preferring to see a judge the next day. At approximately 3am I was told that all charges against me had been dropped and that I would be read SWN’s injunction and then released.

I refused to sign the injunction, and at 3:15am was released into the Moncton night.

I can only assume that my ever-reducing charges were due in no small amount to a public outcry over once again arresting me while covering the ongoing seismic testing story in New Brunswick.

I give thanks for this continued support.

Again, one must wonder at the RCMP’s pre-sunrise, decidedly violent, means of attempting to enforce an injunction against blocking SWN’s equipment. Again, one must reiterate that neither members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society nor anyone else was anywhere near the newly-unblocked compound gate. Nor were they at all capable of re-forming any blockade style formation.

Again, it must be reiterated that Lorraine Clair’s van, the main impediment to accessing the equipment, had been removed the night before.

Instead, with guns drawn, the RCMP appeared intent on provoking a violent climax on the near three-week blockade.

I say in no uncertain terms that it is miraculous that no one was seriously injured yesterday, indeed killed. The RCMP arrived with pistols drawn, dogs snapping, assault rifles trained on various targets, and busloads of RCMP waiting from across the province and beyond.

As solidarity actions spring up across the country, yesterday’s actions have perhaps invited a far greater climax to New Brunswickers’ fight against shale gas.

Finally, while the mainstream media will go far to paint this as a “Native” issue, it is vital to remember that the blockade, until yesterday, had been supported by various allies from across the province. It is also key to note that an original 28 groups, representing New Brunswickers from all walks of life, had demanded an end to all shale gas exploration or development.

This all occurred long before images of bandana-ed Indigenous people, whose veracity as true grassroots activists and not provocateurs is now being closely examined, ever set fire to a single RCMP squad car in Rexton.

Elsipogtog: “Clashes” 400 Years in the Making

Corporate media coverage creates ignorance, which enables violence

By Dru Oja Jay

"What the RCMP are aiming at," a photo from the blockades in Rexton. Photo by @mykelone
“What the RCMP are aiming at,” a photo from the blockades in Rexton. Photo by @mykelone
RCMP snipers. Photo by @ToddLamirande
RCMP snipers. Photo by @ToddLamirande

Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrol boat running over Mi'kmaq fishers in 2001.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrol boat running over Mi’kmaq fishers in 2001.

“NB protest turns violent,” a CBC headline solemnly proclaims. 1,280 news stories about anti-fracking protests in Rexton, New Brunwick, indexed by Google use the word “clashes.” Most stories are decorated with photos of burning police cars.

All this points to one thing: the way that Canada’s corporate media discusses Indigenous protests is fundamentally broken.

Let’s put it this way. If a hockey player gets in a fight or takes a boarding penalty, we can count on the intrepid investigative team at Hockey Night in Canada to find the footage, if it exists, of the “victimized” player instigating the conflict by making a nasty play when the ref wasn’t looking.

When it comes to Mi’kmaq traditional territory, the stakes are infinitely higher, but the effort reporters put in falls short of a typical Don Cherry segment. Most of the reporters currently flocking to rural New Brunswick can’t be bothered to crack one of hundreds of history books that might give them the background they need to understand the situation.

In fact, they’re not even interested in the months of peaceful protests which “turned violent” when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) brought in snipers dressed in camouflage and armoured riot police who attacked protesters with pepper spray, physical assaulting those who stood in the way of violations of treaty rights and the destruction of their land.

The corporate media’s interest in the issue seems to have coincided with the exact moment when unprotected police cars were set on fire (by whom, we have no idea), and their curiosity does not extend back from the present moment. Reporters and editors seem happy to allow the racist anti-Native narratives, which are themselves hundreds of years in the making, fill in the blanks for their readers and viewers.

Are we to understand that reality and accurate understanding is what reporters are supposed to provide? If so, it’s worth telling them that the situation in New Brunswick is impossible to understand the situation without a bit of history.

In the mid-1700s, the Crown signed Peace and Friendship treaties with the Mi’kmaq. The Crown — the entity that puts the “Royal” in “Royal Canadian Mounted Police” — understood that to maintain their settlements on someone else’s traditional territory without worrying about attacks, they needed a treaty relationship with the folks who live here.

Here’s what the Mi’kmaq warrior society says about the treaties:

Under the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and 1761 in the Maritimes, the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet signatories did not surrender rights to lands or resources.

Oops, that wasn’t the warrior society. It’s actually what the Canadian government said about the treaty. It’s what they have to say, because a long string of court decisions has upheld that the Mi’kmaq nation holds collective rights to the land they share with European settlers.

Let’s put this another way. If the British hadn’t signed a treaty that acknowledged the rights of the Mi’kmaq to the land, British, Scottish and Irish settlement (as well as subsequent waves of migration) might have either not happened at all, or happened in a totally different way.

All those who live on the land governed by the treaty are bound by that relationship, by law and by history. That, at any rate, is how many Mi’kmaq people see it. Non-Native Canadians are more likely to know nothing about the relationship that allows them to live in parts of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. If they do know, they probably see it as a social studies curiosity rather than the basis of their legal rights in this country.

And that’s where the media comes in. People who have been reading newspapers and listening to CBC News on the radio for years still have no idea about what should be the most basic self-awareness.

It’s hard to say why any given reporter or editor chooses to continue not providing this essential information. But we can identify the effects of this ongoing neglect.

In the early 1800s, Mi’kmaq people were forced onto reserves. Then the colonial government made a law which allowed European squatters to claim ownership over lands set aside for Mi’kmaq. During this time, Mi’kmaq status was taken away from anyone who decides to become Canadian (necessary at the time to gain voting and other rights).

In the 1900s, Mi’kmaq settlements were encroached upon continuously, with many imposed relocations. The Canadian government forced children into residential schools starting in 1930, followed by “centralization,” which again forced Mi’kmaq families to move into two reserves (Shubenacadie and Eskasoni). Many resisted the move, and the government was only able to centralize about half of the Mi’kmaq population. It was only in 1951 that a ban on traditional ceremonies was lifted.

All of these actions violated the Peace and Friendship treaties, but settlers have simply ignored the law because their numbers are greater. This history leads straight up to the present.

In 1981, Mi’kmaq at Restigouche were attacked by police to prevent them from managing their own fishery (there’s a film about it).

In 2000, Mi’kmaq fishers near Burnt Church once again decided to assert their right, which had been upheld by the Supreme Court, to fish for lobster. They were subject to racist violence from both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which literally ran over boats of people trying to fish, and non-Native mobs, who attacked people trying to fish and destroyed traps and boats. (There’s a film about that, too.)

Every day, non-Native Canadians make a choice. Are we governed by laws and treaties, or by the will of those with the power to use violence and legitimize it via the media? So far, laws have won in courts while violence has won on the ground.

When Mi’kmaq people stop fracking trucks from entering their territory, they’re defending land that they never gave up. Land which the Supreme Court says they have rights to, rights which they government continues to prevent them from acting on.

The growing list of solidarity actions speaks to a different way of doing things, but ongoing widespread ignorance of the actual situation is what makes this violence possible. It’s far beyond time for the corporate media to stop talking about clashes, and start talking about reality.

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