Moncton – The Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote “no lie can live forever” almost two centuries ago, but it sums up the essence of a life and death struggle for the future of New Brunswick that has moved into provincial courtrooms. That struggle will see 18 people and a lawyer from Regina pitted against the federal and provincial governments, and at least one multi-billion dollar shale gas and oil company.
The 18 plaintiffs unveiled their “Peoples Lawsuit” to stop shale gas and to have damage done to date repaired, June 26 in the Moncton Public Library. The determined group includes an organic farmer, a sound technician, a complete family of six, Aboriginal people from Elsipogtog and elsewhere, a young woman from Halifax who says she was a victim of a hit-and-run by a SWN contractor, but refused assistance by the police, and a leader in the Maliseet Grand Council and Wabanaki Confederacy.
The group says that their legal action asks the courts to evaluate is commitment to human rights and fairness in judicial proceedings, to right the many wrongdoings and to uphold the Rule of Law, Peace and Friendship Treaties and the lawful rights of both indigenous people and citizens.
Marcel White, 27, is from Riverside-Albert. White says he went to Alberta a few years ago and was “horrified” by the damage being done by oil and gas companies. During a return visit to New Brunswick in 2011, the organic farmer, who also has a science background in structural engineering, was very alarmed to learn that the Alward government was actually encouraging shale gas development. He also learned that 60 people in Penobsquis had lost their water.
“I made a decision to move back to New Brunswick and do all I could to help stop it,” White said. “I want to make my permanent home here and raise a family in New Brunswick, but shale gas will pollute our air and water, and decrease property values.”
He says that in areas of Alberta where gas flaring takes place, the government’s own data about test results in the province’s schools show that children do not do as well as children in areas where flaring does not take place.
Dave and Debbie Cyr and their four children live near Moncton and are all plaintiffs in the action. He is an Acadian; she is a Mi’kmaq. They feel an obligation to defend the air and water we need today, as well as for future generations. The family relies on traditional medicines, and that makes the protection of provincial air, water and land critical to them.
Debbie talks quietly about a child of hers who died from not being able to get enough oxygen. For her, the threat of air pollution from shale gas, which some scientists say is a virtual certainty, strikes an intensely personal note.
“The government is not being a good steward of the land or water,” Debbie said. “We’ve tried every other means we can think of, and this is the next step.”
Cyr, 39, says her entire family is committed to protecting the earth for future generations. That determination to protect the very sources of life each generation inherits and holds in trust for all future generations is one of the most obvious bonds uniting the plaintiffs.
Marc Bernard is a sound technician for La Pays de la Sagouine who lives in Cocagne. He says the province “must start investing in sustainable and renewable energy sources.”
Bernard is upset by the damage shale gas has caused elsewhere and the damage already done here. He says the only thing that would give him “peace of mind” would be a “permanent ban on shale gas.” He says “the times are changing,” and people are increasingly aware that they have to “take responsibility for caring for the earth.”
One thing the Peoples Lawsuit will highlight is the damage already done to an aquifer in Kent County–damage that has yet to be repaired. Lorraine Clair knows about that damage.
The 47-year old mother and grandmother has “walked along the paths SWN used” and has seen the broken aquifer there. A so-called “shot hole” near Rogersville, drilled as part of the exploration process, punctured an aquifer that has been bleeding on to the ground every since.
“The stuff they used to plug the hole failed,” Clair said. “I just don’t want to see our territory torn apart – enough is enough!”
Clair also has harsh words for the RCMP who have “brutalized” peaceful protestors and “failed in their obligation to us.” She points to the 1763 Royal Proclamation that recognized Aboriginal title to so-called ‘Crown land’ in perpetuity.
“The [Alward] government made a false assumption that they owned the land,” Clair said.
A Supreme Court decision on June 26 – the same day as the People’s Lawsuit was filed – certainly bolsters that claim. Canada’s top court said Aboriginal peoples who did not surrender their ancestral lands through treaties still own them.
The fact that Maritime Aboriginals never surrendered or ceded any of their land through treaties is well-known. It is bitterly ironic that it now appears the RCMP have been arresting Aboriginal landowners while facilitating those trespassing on their land.
Another plaintiff, Alma Brooks, a Maliseet Grand Council leader, has long argued that Aboriginal people in the Maritimes are the rightful owners of Crown Land. The Supreme Court decision says she’s right.
SWN Resources Canada must be wondering just what it started when it tried to bully a 59-year old grandmother from the Harcourt area. Willi Nolan and nine other people opposed to shale gas were hit with a so-called SLAPP suit designed to silence their protest activities. She decided to fight back and defend her right to peaceful protest with the same determination she was bringing to the struggle to protect the earth and the common heritage of fresh water, clean air and fertile land that sustain life itself on the planet.
Nolan invited people to join her in “taking back New Brunswick” for its rightful owners; retained Regina lawyer Larry Kowalchuck; and is ready for her day in court.
Kowalchuck is also handling the anti-shale gas lawsuit against the Province of New Brunswick announced three days prior to the Peoples Lawsuit. That suit, by the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA), prepared to demonstrate in court the very real and present danger shale gas presents to people, plants, animals, and the air, land and water that are the font of all life.
What began as some shale gas executives’ remedy for stifling dissent has turned into a classic case where SWN may have bitten off more than it could chew with Nolan. For Premier Alward, who staked his government’s credibility on shale gas, the month of June has revealed his campaign for re-election September 22 to be a political train wreck.
The month began with a Corporate Research Associate poll showing Alward’s beleaguered Tories already trailing by 25 points across the province. It’s ending with a pair of lawsuits and a Supreme Court ruling that makes the Conservative shale gas policy look more and more like an albatross around their collective necks.
The fantasy world of jobs and prosperity fashioned in New Brunswick by supporters of shale gas development is starting to come apart. Carlyle was right.
Dallas McQuarrie is a long-time journalist, now based in St. Ignace, Kent County, New Brunswick.