Rexton, New Brunswick – Since the RCMP’s vicious pre-dawn raid of the anti-shale gas encampment in Rexton on October 17th, there has been a certain feeling of disarray amongst those who remain to oppose SWN Resources Canada’s attempts at seismic testing in Kent County, New Brunswick. It is no understatement to say that the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, which played a key role in maintaining at least the image of force at the encampment, is reeling from the RCMP’s arrests. In their stead has appeared something of a leadership vacuum.
Granted, support, both from solidarity events across the country and from well-intentioned activists descending upon the rebuilding encampment, has gone far to mend the immediate trauma of the police raid, which saw 40 activists arrested, and the police use a variety of less-lethal weaponry, including rubber bullet slugs.
But SWN’s seized seismic testing equipment – the key reason behind the encampment’s positioning – is gone, escorted away by RCMP on the morning of the 17th. The location of the equipment is currently unknown. Without any clear purpose save that of a gathering spot, and with late fall now upon the activists, it is unclear whether the highway 134 encampment will survive much longer, despite the public outcry of well-wishes.
Key members of the Society are now facing numerous charge related to the events that transpired on the 17th, and in some cases are also dealing with charges related to a supposed elevation in tensions that occurred on the 15th and 16th.
Six men in particular: Jason “Okay” Augustin, Jim Pictou, Aaron Francis, Germaine “Junior” Breau, Dave Mazerolle and Coady Stevens, are now facing, amongst them, over forty charges related to their participation in the blockade of SWN’s equipment. Stevens, Augustine and Mazerolle were supposed to be granted a bail hearing on Monday, October 21st, with Pictou, Francis and Breau scheduled for the 22nd.
Instead, at week’s end, only Stevens, Augustine and Mazerolle had been given a hearing, with Steven’s denied bail. Pictou, for his part, perhaps exhausted by the duration of the bail hearings which have turned into something far more resembling a trial, has hired a new lawyer, Hazen Brien out of Fredericton. Francis and Breau have both waived their bail hearings and are now awaiting a trial date of November 1st.
Although there is a press ban on the evidence presented in the bail hearings, the pre-17th charges that have been laid on several of the still-incarcerated Warriors factor greatly into the RCMP’s narrative of an ever-escalating level of violence and tension at the peaceful encampment that required their attack of two Thursdays ago. In particular, Coady Stevens faces charges of threats, assault and unlawful confinement dating from October 15th and 16th.
Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – lacking from the dominant police narrative in the Moncton courthouse is the notion of a clear attempt at a de-escalation of tensions that actually occurred prior to the October 17th raid.
For example, the main impediment to the Irving-owned compound, where SWN’s equipment was stationed was a privately owned van that had been parked there since September 28th. That van was removed from the encampment on the evening of October 16th.
As well, Suzanne Patles, member of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society and one of the central figures in the ongoing attempts at negotiation with the RCMP, noted that on the evening of the 16th she had been given a bundle of tobacco wrapped in red cloth by RCMP negotiator – and fellow Mi’kmaq – Walter Denny from Eskasoni First Nation. Indeed, on the morning of the 17th, Patles, in a last ditch effort to defuse a situation that saw dozens of guns drawn and pointed at the Warriors, screamed again and again to the RCMP force that they had been given a traditional symbol of peace only the evening before. As we now know, this attempt at pacification fell upon deaf police ears.
Trials for several of the Warriors still incarcerated, including Stevens, Breau and Francis, are set to get under way in Moncton on November 1st.