Two investigators probing the RCMP’s response to the 2013 shale gas protests in Kent County have received about 70 formal statements to date. The pair, Bill Brydon and Gordon Barnett, wrapped up another week of interviews with Kent County residents May 15.
Numerous allegations of misconduct by the RCMP prompted the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for the RCMP to launch what it calls ” a public interest investigation into the RCMP response to the shale gas protests in Kent County, New Brunswick, in 2013.”
The CRCC is an independent agency created by Parliament to ensure that public complaints made about the conduct of RCMP members are examined fairly and impartially. The Commission is not part of the RCMP and reports directly to Parliament rather than to any federal government department.
Witnesses in Kent County have made formal statements detailing the RCMP’s use of excessive force in dealing with local residents and its closure of roads to prevent supporters from reaching protest sites. Witness report that Aboriginal protesters consistently received harsher physical treatment than non-Aboriginals.
Local residents have also objected to the frequent concealment of name tags and badges normally worn by officers; illegal arrests and detentions; and the use of the tactic called ‘kettling’ to cut off protesters and limit media access to protest sites.
‘Kettling’ refers to the police practice of setting up road blocks on public highways into peaceful protest sites. The tactic was used to limit scrutiny of police actions in attempting to crush the protests by force.
As well, people have complained about RCMP interference with Aboriginal people’s spiritual ceremonies and sacred objects. A non-Aboriginal senior citizen told Brydon and Barnett that, after his arrest, the RCMP seized a small wooden crucifix he was carrying as an aid to prayer.
The common denominator in all the stories is that, seemingly, there was no one in government or the police willing to protect the rights of Aboriginal, Anglophone and Francophone citizens trying to save their homes, communities and drinking water sources. The resistance to shale gas in New Brunswick was fueled by the many documented cases of communities elsewhere seeing their water sources polluted by the ravages of shale gas development.
To this day, it has never been made clear who ordered the RCMP to try to crush popular resistance to shale gas by attacking a peaceful protest site near Rexton in October 2013. The police action was severely criticized by Amnesty International in a November 2013 letter to then Premier Alward.
Provinces like New Brunswick that contract with the federal government for RCMP policing services also set the policing priorities for the RCMP. Thus it seems very unlikely that RCMP commanders would make a decision to attack shale gas protesters without, at least, the tacit approval of the Province.
The Progressive Conservative government that was in power when the Rexton camp was overrun was defeated less than a year later in a September 2014 provincial election. That election saw political parties promising a ban or moratorium on shale gas development get 80 per cent of the popular vote in Kent County.
There is, as yet, no firm date for the CRCC to release it’s report on how the RCMP comported itself here in 2013. In March, Commission lawyer Rosemary Morgan told a public meeting in Rexton she was still waiting for information from the RCMP that the CRCC was entitled to have.
Commission reports make findings and recommendations aimed at correcting and preventing recurring policing problems, but many Kent County residents are not sure what to expect. A headline on page one of the March 30 edition of L’Acadie Nouvelle, an independent French language newspaper published in Caraquet, read “The People Have Lost Confidence in the RCMP.” That about sums up the mood these days in Kent County.
Dallas McQuarrie is a news writer for the NB Media Co-op and a former CBC journalist.