Rexton – An investigation into the decision-making, actions, and role of the RCMP during 2013 shale gas protests in Kent County heard repeated cries for justice, leavened with tears, in Rexton on March 14.
In December 2014, Ian McPhail, Chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission Against the RCMP (CRCC) said that he was “satisfied that there are reasonable grounds” for the investigation, based on the 20 formal complaints against Canada’s national police force, including one complaint from Halifax signed by more than 245 people.
The Rexton meeting was directed by Rosemary Morgan, a lawyer and the CRCC’s Senior Reviewer/Analyst. She stressed that the Commission reports directly to Parliament and is independent of both the RCMP and the federal government.
Morgan told the meeting that she is having some difficulty getting all the information the Commission has requested, and is legally entitled to have, from the RCMP. Everyone at the Rexton meeting had taken part in or witnessed shale gas protest, and all were willing to share their experiences and the information they have.
Following three years of anti-shale gas protest without any incidents of violence, the RCMP suddenly attacked and overran a protest camp at Rexton on October 17, 2013. While the Rexton camp garnered much media attention, people in Kent County and elsewhere have been sharing stories of police misconduct in a variety of incidents over the course of the protests.
A big part of the answer to questions about RCMP conduct here may have come last month when a leaked RCMP report revealed RCMP security personnel were targeting people concerned about the environment and climate change. Apparently the threat of global catastrophe due to climate change is of no concern to RCMP security forces, but peaceful protesters concerned about the health of their children and grandchildren are perceived as threats to national security.
Many anti-shale gas activists feel the leaked RCMP report explains why a protest movement that had been non-violent for three years had also been so consistently harassed and abused by police. Now they wonder just how deep the collusion between a supposedly impartial police force and the hydrocarbon industry goes. Equally evident is the perceived difference between the RCMP officers living in the community and the security police and their tactical squads that stormed the Rexton camp.
Among the first concerns raised in Rexton was the fact that Aboriginal protesters received harsher treatment than non-Aboriginals from police. There was anger that no RCMP officers were ever charged for illegal actions described. Another prominent complaint was that the RCMP consistently favored the shale gas company SWN and had a cozy relationship with SWN security guards. The meeting heard that police were told about a SWN truck that hit three women protesters, but refused to take any action.
Although expressed in many ways, the common element in all the outrage and tears was a demand for justice for all and impartial policing. As the meeting progressed, two CRCC investigators in attendance did follow-up interviews with people wanting to speak with them.
A woman in tears recounted walking with a friend down the road away from the protest site, when her friend was jumped and thrown to the ground by RCMP officers. Others wanted to know why the political leaders “responsible” for RCMP conduct were not being called to account.
Denise Melanson is a retired social worker living in the Rexton area who had already given her story to the CRCC before Saturday’s meeting. Melanson was near the RCMP cars that were burned shortly after police launched their attack on the camp.
Melanson says police had Highway 134 blocked on both the north and south sides of the camp. Approaching from the north, she could see that the police had lined up across the highway. They and the people at the camp were looking at each other. “I didn’t notice when the police left their cars,” she says, but remembers seeing people running from the scene when violence broke out. That’s when “three or four young men” Melanson did not know moved forward and started vandalizing the police cars.
“I was quite taken aback and kept wondering when the police would stop them,” she says, but, by that time, the police had vacated the area, apparently leaving their cars behind. “I was very upset. With that many police officers in the area, I expected somebody to stop it.”
Melanson is a stalwart in the anti-shale gas movement, and knows a great many protesters. She didn’t recognize the men who attacked the police cars, so she “asked around” and found that the men had arrived only the day before, and no one knew them. Melanson is puzzled by the fact the police weren’t interested in her story and never did show her any photographs of possible suspects or even do a follow-up interview. She questions if there was any real need for the RCMP’s “grand intervention” in Rexton on October 17, 2013.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) Against the RCMP is currently investigating RCMP conduct in Kent County during shale gas protests here. Anyone who wishes to submit any evidence to the inquiry and/or share their experiences and perceptions of RCMP conduct during those protests, is invited to e-mail the CRCC and its Senior Reviewer/Analyst Rosemary Morgan at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dallas McQuarrie is a retired journalist and civil servant living on unceeded Mik’miq territory in Kent County.