Police come down hard on anti-shale fracking protest

Published in Windspeaker newspaper | August 2013 | Circulation: 145,000

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At least 31 people have now been arrested in anti-shale gas fracking protests in New Brunswick, including a journalist who alleges police attempted to pay him to become an informant.

Most of those arrested trying to stop SWN Resources Canada’s seismic testing have been Indigenous land defenders at a Sacred Fire encampment organized by local Mi’kmaq opponents from Elsipogtog First Nation.

“As Mi’kmaq people in the east, when any law or anything to do with the land happens, we react, because it is ours to protect,” explained Elsipogtog resident Amy Sock. She said Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents are not only concerned about pollution from fracking, but also the industry’s man-made earthquakes.
“I just don’t want shale gas to come to New Brunswick.

“Our priority is Mother Earth… To be honest, we have a big nuclear plant in New Brunswick. Once fracking goes on—once we start getting earthquakes—I’m afraid that thing is going to blow up.”

While a dozen protesters were arrested while conducting a smudging ceremony June 21, on National Aboriginal Day, a second wave of arrests saw others jailed by RCMP.

SWN Resources Canada, which is hoping to begin its shale gas explorations pending seismic testing in Kent County, asserts that its operations are within the law and environmental regulations.

“It’s a highly monitored, highly industrial extravaganza that’s going on here,” said Miles Howe, a journalist with the Halifax Media Co-op who has been covering the protests since their beginning. “(There’s) the potential for really catastrophic environmental damage through the process of hydraulic fracturing, and what that might mean for water tables and aquifers.”

On June 24, shortly after the second round of arrests, one of the company’s machines–known as a shot-hole driller–was allegedly set ablaze. Howe was the first-responder at the scene, but despite filing a report with police about the apparent arson, Howe told Windspeaker police sent another force’s officers to his house in Nova Scotia to inquire about him.

When he then presented himself at the Kent County police station, Howe alleges police took him aside and offered to pay him “financial compensation,” he said they termed it, if he became an undercover police informant against illegal activities associated with the protest.

“It made me feel very uncomfortable,” he told Windspeaker, adding that at the time he chose not to publicize the police attempts so as not to detract from the issues he was covering. “There was some sense of camaraderie that didn’t necessarily exist (from police) because of my position as a journalist, who is reasonably trusted by the people at the Sacred Fire encampment, that I would be a potential informant for them.”

Only days after Howe said he refused to become a police operative, he was arrested on charges of “uttering threats.” Only then did the reporter decide to end his silence about the police’s earlier tactics, Howe said. New Brunswick RCMP did not return several interview requests to respond to the allegations.

But Howe’s arrest led to a storm of criticism from Canada’s press watchdogs, including the Canadian Association of Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Canadian Freelance Union–an outcry that put SWN Resources and the shale gas fracking issue into the prestigious U.S. Wall Street Journal.

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