Midnight confiscation of drilling equipment at New Brunswick anti-fracking protest

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Elsipogtog First Nation, New Brunswick -- "We've taken it to the next level," said Grand Elder Ray Robinson of last night's events. "The bubble is about to burst, if it hasn't already been burst."

At approximately 12 midnight last night, locals began hearing booming sounds characteristic of the Southwestern Energy (SWN) seismic testing trucks, or 'thumpers,' as well as other less familiar industrial sounds nearby. After an online call-out expressing concern that SWN might be attempting to begin drilling under the cover of darkness, locals and camp members began to search for the source of the sounds.

Local Elsipogtog warrior Jason Okay recounts what followed: "We stopped to ask for directions from a lady's house that was near the sounds. We told her where we thought the sounds were, and she said 'No way! That's my [privately owned] land!' We said 'sorry ma'am, but your land's getting drilled.'"

Camp members and locals entered the forest on the woman's property to find a crowd of RCMP officers and private security forces protecting two SWN trucks. Protesters confronted the RCMP, stating that SWN was operating on private property without consent and must leave immediately.

According to Okay and other camp sources, protesters were followed onto the site by a group of individuals identifying themselves as UN independent observers, who proceeded to talk with the RCMP. Following discussion, it is reported that the "observers" convinced the RCMP to escort SWN officials off the property, abandoning the trucks. Elsipogtog residents confiscated the trucks, towing them onto the Elsipogtog reserve where they are still being held.

Following the abandonment of the site by SWN security and the RCMP, locals went deeper into the forest and discovered what are reported to be unmanned SWN drilling trucks. Upon investigating the surrounding area, a series of large holes in the earth were discovered. Warriors and protesters remain camped out in the area awaiting means to transport the equipment to the reserve.

"Everything should halt," said Okay of the significance of last night's confrontation. "SWN should realize we don't want them here ... [If we wouldn't have confiscated the equipment] they'd be drilling right now."

Police remain camped out near the entrance to the site of the drills, blocking any attempts by protesters to transport the equipment off-site. Unmarked police vehicles dot the highway near the camp site, and SWN security vehicles have been sighted driving past the camp frequently. A Global News crew attempted to set up without consent in front of the camp at approximately 5:00am this morning, but were evicted by camp members before filming began.

Questions about UN observers

 Chief Aaron Sock of Elsipogtog states that he contacted the UN last weekend to request UN observation, in order to maintain peace between the RCMP and locals due to recent security concerns. Two individuals identified by themselves and local leadership as UN Independent Observers have been present on camp for two days since, conducting interviews with camp members, collecting information, and last night, providing a mediating role in confrontations.

However, upon contacting Wilton Littlechild, Chairperson of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), Littlechild stated that while he was contacted by Chief Sock in regards to security concerns at the camp, he had not directly deployed any observers as of yet.

Meanwhile, a source in the office of the spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the UN confirmed to rabble.ca that there are currently no UN observers anywhere in Canada.

Despite this lack of clear verification, camp members and First Nations leadership hold that the individuals have a relationship with the UN, pointing to the RCMP's respect for the observers' role as mediators in last night's confrontation as further evidence.

Update - 11:45pm EST: Upon further discussion with local leadership and the individuals identified as 'UN Independent Observers,' it has been made clear that the term 'Independent Observer' was intended to communicate that the individuals were not directly employed by the UN. They have been appointed by local leadership to maintain a peacekeeping role in the camp, and compile a report based on their observations of the situation to be independently submitted on behalf of the community to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which has been confirmed by the UN via Wilton Littlechild, Chairperson of EMPRIP). The titles of the individuals have been switched to 'Peacekeepers' to avoid future confusion.



Claire Stewart-Kanigan is a writer from Montreal currently reporting from the anti-fracking protest camp. See her first dispatch here

Photo: Jason Okay

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