In the early morning of Thursday October 17, over 100 RCMP officers moved in on land protectors camped out at Elsipogtog, there to prevent fracking by SWN Resources. This included camouflaged tactical officers armed with assault rifles, and with dogs. 40 people were arrested. For a firsthand account of events on October 17, see this article by Miles Howe of the Halifax Media Co-op who’s been covering the opposition to SWN Resources and shale gas fracking in Elsipogtog (in New Brunswick) since June. In July, Howe was arrested and then released by the RCMP in while covering the protests.
During the RCMP’s press conference on October 18, Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown stated that police actions were “necessary” because police had become aware of weapons on site, which presented a “serious threat to public safety”. At the same time, the RCMP were enforcing an injunction obtained by Texas-based SWN Resources to prevent people from blocking access to their equipment. The timing of the raid is interesting as this injunction was set to expire on October 21. SWN has claimed that they are losing $60,000 each day from not being able to engage in their exploration activities. Howe points out in his account that at the time of the police raid, the blockade of the SWN equipment had already been removed, and police were targeting people camped out away from the site specified in the injunction. SWN has now requested that the injunction be extended indefinitely.
Comparisons have been made between these events and those at Kanesatake (Oka) in 1990, Gustafsen Lake (1995), Ipperwash in 1995, and at Six Nations / Douglas Creek Estates in 2006. Despite the unique contexts and catalyzing issues of these events, over 23 years, we can see consistent discourses reproduced by the mainstream media, politicians and police in constructing the threat of Indigenous resistance and legitimizing the use of coercive force. One of the key differences over the years, however, has been the role of independent and social media in countering mainstream framing of events and issues. At Elsipogtog, the symbiotic relationship between state and capital is highlighted as law — via criminal law and civil law injunction — is deployed to facilitate resource extraction with serious environmental implications. The enforcement of ‘rule of law’ is ignored however, when it comes to the Crown’s treaty obligations to hold “Crown land” – which is where these events are taking place – for the Mi’kmaq people, as well as with the legal duty to consult on any proposed ‘development’ on traditional lands — particularly significant as the Maritime provinces are on unceded territories.
The struggles at Elsipogtog are not over, and solidarity protests have occurred across Canada and the US. The events on October 17 are a reminder that, despite the relatively “accommodating” responses of police to most Idle No More events since December 2012, the potential of militaristic use of force by the state is always present.