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.
“I occupy an interesting position here, being a journalist,” Howe admitted, “but I did not want to be the focus.
“That’s kind of ironic–that one working journalist would be arrested and it’s in the Wall Street Journal, whereas 30 largely Indigenous people against shale gas exploration can be arrested, and there was little to no interest from the national media.”
For Sock, the opposition of Elsipogtog First Nation residents and the band council itself to fracking have received an outpouring of support from non-Aboriginals.
“We have a lot of farmers here, non-Natives,” she said. “I’m worried about them, too. We’re all worried about our water... We can’t fight this alone. Most of the folks down here are farmers; they’re very protective of the land as well. Quite frankly, it’s the non-Natives that have been bringing the most food!”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo issued a statement in support of the band and protesters.
“We stand in full support of the New Brunswick First Nations leadership as they are asserting and protecting their rights on natural resource development for the future and betterment of their communities,” he said. “First Nations have a sacred duty to protect the lands, waters and vital resources bestowed upon them.
“It is our responsibility to fulfill the vision of our ancestors, a vision of shared prosperity and success for all our peoples. This requires supporting First Nation governments in driving their own economies and engaging meaningful business opportunities and partnerships, through the basic and standard principles of free, prior and informed consent. This is the road to productivity and prosperity for all of us.”
Neither SWN Resources Canada or the RCMP returned several interview requests.