Review and Complaints about police actions on Rexton shale gas protesters

Rexton shale gas protesters frustrated by RCMP 2013 study

The Civil Review and Appeals Commission reviewed over 20 police complaints

Susan Levi-Peters says October 2013 shouldn't have happened.

That's why about 200 RCMP officers were mobilized to evict demonstrators outside Rexton protesting SWN Energy Canada shale gas discovery.

Many of the demonstrators protested the exploration work, like Levi-Peters, were indigenous people from neighboring Elsipogtog First Nation. Protesters blocked entry to a business complex and set up a tent that police cleared Oct. 17.

RCMP police and protesters on Route 134 in Rexton in 2013
RCMP police and protesters on Route 134 in Rexton in 2013

Dozens were arrested, five police cars burnt, and more than 21 police activity reports filed with the Civilian Oversight and Complaints Board.

"I guess it should have been handled more properly," Levi-Peters said.

Many of the concerns over the use of force by police during the months leading up to Oct. 17 clash and that day in what the study describes as a riot.

The Commission's 200-page report published Thursday says officers stepped in against a backdrop of increasing tension, intimidation, a filibuster, pervasive gun and explosive reports."

Five RCMP vehicles were burned in October 2013
Five RCMP vehicles were burned in October 2013

The study states that the force used by officers is justified.

"The Commission concluded that, considering the dangers presented by the protestors' actions and legitimate fears regarding the safety of RCMP members and the public, the use of force was generally appropriate in the situations and proportionate to the behavior experienced by the members," the study says.

Levi-Peters doesn't approve.

"I can't find that justifiable. I can't agree with a lot of how they treated it no, based on what I heard in court, recordings, what I directly witnessed on the field," she said.

Former Elsipogtog Leader Susan Levi-Peters says the study she agrees with some conclusions and others she disagrees with
Former Elsipogtog Leader Susan Levi-Peters says the study she agrees with some conclusions and others she disagrees with

However the article challenges certain protestors' tightness to zip ties used as handcuffs.

Such results are:

  • Any RCMP monitoring activities and physical inspections contradicted the Charter rights of demonstrators
  • Video revealed RCMP officers at the protest sites were largely aware of the need to honor indigenous ceremonial rituals and objects, but officers did not have ample experience in indigenous cultural matters.
  • Officers didn't distinguish between indigenous and non-indigenous demonstrators when making arrests, nor necessarily showed racism against indigenous protesters.

Jim Emberger awaited the study years. The spokeswoman for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Coalition was discouraged because it stood with police in several cases investigated by the commission.

"There was a lot in the study that appeared to boil down to a 'he said, she said' ... if there was no video evidence of it, matters were settled in favor of the RCMP," Emberger said Thursday.

He claims one surprising part of the study looked at RCMP crisis negotiators' conduct right before the 17 clashes.

Negotiators listened to demonstrators who had stopped some security personnel from exiting the shale gas company's compound.

Negotiators managed to let those staff go and exchange with RCMP officers, the report states. RCMP gave demonstrators cigarettes, a gesture the study defines as a deep declaration of peace.

Yet the negotiation team wasn't aware of other officers planning to drive into the protester's camp.

"Whether tobacco presents were interpreted as a peace gesture, a sign of respect, or a symbol of noble intent, when the campsite's indigenous protestors woke up the next morning to see tactical troops preparing to "invade" their camp, they saw it as a significant act of betrayal," the study says.

Close chapter

Levi-Peters believes the RCMP would act on the report's suggestions for reform, and was glad to see that the results included the need for cultural awareness training.

In a response contained in the study, the RCMP acknowledged some of the important conclusions but dismissed others, including one about how it gathered social media content.

Levi-Peters said what happened triggered police mistrust.

"I'm also glad it's almost finished," she said of the research. "Can we close the chapter and start fresh?"