Open Letter to David Alward
Premier of New Brunswick
Dear Premier Alward:
Today is International Human Rights Day and I am writing to you on behalf of the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA). Members of the many community groups that make up the NBASGA are fully committed to peaceful, non-violent protest, and we share Amnesty International’s concerns that further violent incidents, such as what happened in Rexton, could happen again.
Therefore, NBASGA is formally asking you, as Premier, to establish a full, independent public inquiry into the circumstances and events culminating in the RCMP raid on a peaceful protest camp near Rexton on October 17, 2013. The citizens of New Brunswick have a right to know all the circumstances surrounding this sudden escalation in the use of force.
We feel an independent public inquiry is necessary to determine what precipitated the violence, and how best to prevent any possible recurrence in the future.
In its letter to you, dated Nov. 1, 2013, Amnesty International (AI) states that the violence at Rexton “could have been avoided had the province acted in a manner consistent with its obligations to respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples under Canadian and international law”. As AI is the world’s foremost human rights organization, we implore you to heed its warning that further clashes could occur.
I’m sure you would agree that the Province of New Brunswick should be making every attempt to fulfill all its legal obligations to Indigenous peoples under both Canadian and international law.
While the full nature and extent of any provincial breech of the legal and human rights of Indigenous peoples needs to be examined, there are too many unanswered questions about the specific circumstances leading to the Rexton incident. An independent, impartial public inquiry held at arm’s length from government is necessary, because the Province of New Brunswick was itself a player in those circumstances and events and so has an obvious conflict of interest that precludes it conducting an impartial inquiry.
Following years of peaceful protest, what happened in the days leading up to October 17 that made the police think the situation had changed so radically? Thousands of people have visited peaceful demonstration sites across the province since opposition began, bringing supplies and offering financial and moral support. Rexton was no different until the RCMP decided to raid the protest camp. Witnesses say there was no threat to public safety at the camp until police, with drawn guns and accompanied by dogs and snipers in camouflage, attacked unarmed civilians, including women and children, with pepper spray and non-lethal rounds. In one incident, a woman praying the rosary was pepper-sprayed in the face.
A public inquiry should also examine why police continued allowing citizens to enter the site, considering the police themselves claim it was a dangerous situation threatening public safety, yet kept media away (excepting one Brunswick News reporter who was curiously there at dawn).
As well, an inquiry could determine why police did not consult with First Nations’ chiefs who were vocal advocates of non-violence. Although they are leaders committed to non-violence, Chief Sock and his band counselors were among the first arrested and thus prevented from intervening in a timely fashion. Arresting a respected chief who has repeatedly stressed the importance of peaceful protest in the midst of an inflamed situation is baffling and needs further scrutiny.
An inquiry might reveal why, despite a massive police presence at the camp, six RCMP vehicles were left unattended, and how they could be set on fire with no police intervention and, to date, no arrests of suspects for arson.
These are but a few of the unanswered questions.
Mr. Premier, the people of New Brunswick are entitled to a fair, full and impartial accounting of what caused the violence at Rexton on October 17. Such an inquiry would both clear the air and be instrumental in actions taken to ensure such violence does not happen again.
We look forward to your reply. A hard copy of this letter will be mailed to you.
Jim Emberger, Spokesperson
New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA)
Brian Gallant, Leader NB Liberal Party
David Coon, Leader NB Green Party
Dominic Cardy, Leader NB NDP
Kris Austin, Leader People’s Alliance
Charles Murray, Ombudsman