Oct 18 2013
FREDERICTON - The RCMP's commanding officer in New Brunswick defended the police response to a shale gas protest that erupted into violence, saying Friday that if the Mounties hadn't acted, lives could have been in danger.
"Our officers demonstrated incredible professionalism as they worked to resolve the situation under tremendously difficult and dangerous circumstances,'' assistant commissioner Roger Brown told a news conference in Fredericton.
"There came a point in time where we knew that this situation was no longer safe and that we had to do something before it turned into a situation where, regrettably, somebody could've been injured or even killed, and that's what triggered the decision.''
Six police vehicles including an unmarked van were burned Thursday in Rexton after the RCMP moved in to enforce a court-ordered injunction to remove protesters at the site of a compound where SWN Resources stored exploration equipment. A spokeswoman for the police force said Thursday that threats were made against private security guards at the site on Wednesday night.
The Mounties said Molotov cocktails were tossed at them and they fired non-lethal sock rounds - beanbag type bullets - and pepper spray to defuse the situation. But Brown said no officers discharged their firearms at any point Thursday.
He said officers discovered a number of weapons at the encampment including improvised explosive devices, firearms and knives.
"I will wear my heart on my sleeve for a second,'' he said. "I am so thankful that nothing happened yesterday because we could be having a totally different press conference today. We are so fortunate that this unfolded like it did.''
He said he did not know how the weapons ended up at the protest site.
"That is quite a large area and we did not have full control over that area,'' he said.
He said of the 40 arrested for firearms offences, threats, intimidation, mischief and violating the injunction, 31 have been released on a promise to appear in court at a later date.
The protesters, some of whom were members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, were demonstrating for weeks against the development of a shale gas sector in the province.
Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock, who was among those arrested and released, met with Premier David Alward on Friday to discuss what happened.
Earlier in Halifax, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay called for an end to any further confrontations and the resumption of talks to resolve the dispute over shale gas exploration.
"There's obviously a need to respect the law and to avoid violence and return to discussions,'' he said at a roundtable discussion on justice issues.
"That is what we're all encouraging and hoping for, but when violence erupts you can expect the police are there to keep the peace and to protect citizens.''
The RCMP blocked Route 134 on Sept. 29 after a protest there began spilling onto the road. Protesters subsequently cut down trees that were placed across another part of the road, blocking the entrance to the compound.
The protesters want SWN Resources to stop seismic testing and leave the province.
Demonstrations were also held in other parts of the country Friday to support the protesters in Rexton.