In the aftermath of Rexton

Last Tuesday, the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA) held a media conference at the Capitol Theatre in Moncton to respond to the violent events in Rexton the week previous.

Global news report:

The official statement follows:

The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance supports the rights of aboriginal peoples to have prior, meaningful consultation on matters vital to their lives and livelihoods, as guaranteed by treaties and courts. Because they live close to the land and have nowhere else to go if their lands are damaged, they are the first line of defense for all of us.

Although there were unquestionably many things that eventually led to the events last week in Rexton, there is an underlying background history of 3 years of a government failure to engage honestly and openly with the citizens of NB on such a crucial issue.

This is not only an aboriginal rights story.  It’s a story of government ineptitude and arrogance.  The dangers associated with shale gas pose a threat to all New Brunswickers, and for three years the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance of nearly thirty groups of Anglophone, Francophone and Aboriginal citizens have sought, along with the people of Elsipogtog, to expose these dangers to the government and the public.

Just as it has ignored aboriginal rights, the government has also ignored our groups, the thousands of people we represent and all New Brunswick citizens.  Opponents to shale gas have turned out 1,500 people on short notice for a march on the legislature in 2011 and a year later brought an historic petition to the legislature, signed by 20,000 citizens.  In a province of only 750,000 thousand people, these are incredible numbers.

We have just learned that 51 Francophone mayors have reiterated their calls for a moratorium, joining the 14 of 15 civic leaders of Kent County and dozens of municipalities and districts throughout the province.  How can the government make any claim to have the support of the people?

A door-to-door poll in St. Ignace found that 98% of the populace opposed shale gas, which matches the 97% of a similar poll in Taymouth nearly three years ago.  Clearly the government is not making its case, and with good reason.  If you don’t talk to people you can’t convince them.

The NB Anti-Shale Gas Alliance has continuously urged the government to address all of the scientific, economic and social issues surrounding shale gas in public forums open to questions and debate. To date, the government has completely ignored these requests and has totally failed to present its scientific and economic case to the public.

It missed a perfect chance to do so when the Chief Medical Officer for Health issued a comprehensive, award winning report on shale gas. The government had to be forced to make this report public, and never, ever discusses it, because it raises questions about the general lack of knowledge about many aspects of shale gas, and about the government’s approach to developing it.

The single government attempt to engage the public was the LaPierre ‘listening tour’.  But when the tour ended, government decided to ignore the public’s comments and instead accept a report of the personal opinions of Dr. LaPierre, a report, which now stands discredited along with its author.

This disregard for the public’s opinion and willful failure to seek informed consent from the public is mirrored in the government’s failure to obey its legal obligation to consult with the aboriginal people. This failure makes the government the first lawbreaker in this dispute, and is the underlying cause of all the events leading to Rexton.  Simple, honest and open public discussion could have prevented Rexton from happening.

Anti-shale gas demonstrations, including blockades of equipment and arrests, have been occurring for nearly three years with absolutely no appearance or threat of violence.  Thousands of people have peacefully visited demonstration sites from Stanley in 2011 to Rexton today, bringing supplies and financial and moral support.

Therefore, there are many questions to be answered, and many explanations needed to determine why last Thursday at Rexton was different.

We applaud the Elsipogtog people for being able to move on to healing and peacefully making their case through the courts. They have our support and that of allies around the world.  But there must be a public accounting of the police activities leading up to and including the day of this event.  There remain many questions about the authorization, timing, necessity and execution of this action, and the shocking escalation in the use of force. Leaving them unanswered will set a precedent that will guarantee a reoccurrence of Rextons in the future.

We are also happy that this incident has ended with the Elsipogtog people seeking their own injunction to halt seismic testing. Seismic is not simple and harmless exploration. Under New Brunswick law it is the gateway to production. An exploration license (granted for seismic testing) is automatically turned into a production lease simply by asking for it and paying a fee. The only time to have meaningful discussions about whether or not we as a Province want to follow this path is to do so before exploration is done.

Moving to a more positive message…

As the government has abandoned public dialogue, the NB Anti-Shale Gas Alliance has been attempting to fill this void. Our members have been giving presentations, providing information, organizing events and spreading the word person-to-person throughout the province. This has prompted dozens of municipalities, professional and civic groups to call for a moratorium.

We have stepped up our efforts by putting together a package of arguments about the many facets of shale gas that are seldom discussed, as the government, industry (and some media) are happy to pretend that water contamination is the only problem with shale gas. Our first formal collection of arguments was directed primarily to the concerns of municipal officials, and was distributed at the AGM’s of both the Francophone and Anglophone Unions of Municipalities.

The information is drawn from credible (and named) sources such as peer-reviewed science, expert analysis, industry reports and stories in the news from places where shale gas is being extracted. It covers much of the same ground as the scientific Chief Medical Officer for Health’s report, but it is designed to be accessible to the non-scientist.

The information is available here.

As this information, with additions and updates, circulates in the public, we encourage people to take it to their political leaders and get answers to their questions about it. As the campaign for next year’s election proceeds, we will track candidates’ positions on this issue and make them known to the public as well.

The government should know that there ‘will’ be a public discussion about shale gas. Whether they will be part of that discussion is up to them. The other campaign of the Alliance is to raise money to fund a legal challenge to shale gas.  One way or another the public will get the truth.

Questions Regarding the Events in Rexton:

There was no threat to public safety until police, who arrived with drawn guns, dogs and snipers in camouflage, advanced on unarmed civilians, including women and children, using pepper spray and non-lethal rounds.  This was a sudden and shocking escalation in the use of force.  Why was it necessary, given months of non-violent protest, where firearms were never seen at this site or any protest site?

The police claim to have ‘intelligence’ that there were explosives and firearms. How did they know?  Why then did they allow people to go into what they later described as a ‘dangerous situation’ right up to the moment the police assault began?  This site had been effectively blocked in all directions for weeks.  Why did this not take place on Thursday?

While some people were allowed in, why did the police ban the press from the scene while the action took place? By doing so, the police removed the only people who could substantiate their allegations about firearms and explosives purportedly found at the site.

And if police had this knowledge, why wasn’t it made known to the chiefs with whom they had contact? They may have been able to diffuse this situation peacefully themselves if they had been informed.

We find it utterly incomprehensible that with a massive police presence at the site that first one and then eventually six vehicles could be set on fire, with no police intervention, and no arrests of suspects for arson. We don’t know what to make of this, but it needs an explanation.