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Up all night with a license to kill - October 17th raid planned for maximum confrontation.

At #Warriorscourt, Four officers testify to a gun being pointed - but was this all necessary? An analysis.

by Miles Howe

Troops in a semi-circle sweep engaged sleeping campers on the morning of the 17th. ERT members, awake in some cases for over 30 hours, had lethal oversight.[Photo: Miles Howe]
Troops in a semi-circle sweep engaged sleeping campers on the morning of the 17th. ERT members, awake in some cases for over 30 hours, had lethal oversight.[Photo: Miles Howe]

Moncton, New Brunswick – The fourth day of the trial of Germaine 'Junior' Breau and Aaron Francis focused on the testimony of four RCMP officers who were engaged in sweeping through the field in which the main tent encampment of the anti-shale gas protest was located.

While earlier testimonies throughout the week have come from officers with a backside view of Breau – who is standing trial for five counts of pointing a firearm – the officers who took the stand today all testified that they were in the line of fire, and actually had the barrel of the rifle pointed at them.

While the spectrum of the matter before presiding Judge Jackson will undoubtedly be limited - in this instance - to the matter of whether Breau is guilty of pointing the firearm, there is a certain insight to be gleaned by analyzing the events that precipitated the alleged pointing of the firearm and the tactics utilized by the RCMP in response to the alleged events.

The lead-up – Was the intent to liberate SWN's equipment? Or to crush the resistance?

The injunction providing the RCMP with the justification to effectuate the October 17th raid was worded so that the main objective was to liberate SWN's seismic testing equipment from a compound where it had been stationed for the previous 19 days.

Arresting, or engaging the individuals residing at the anti-shale gas encampment in a field adjacent to the compound, would have been at the discretion of whoever devised the tactical operation.

In this case, Tactical Troop Site Commander Sergeant Rick Bernard would have had a key role to play in the development and initialization of the October 17th raid.

Bernard, in his testimony, is certainly confused as to the illegality of the encampment adjacent to the compound.

On the one hand, he noted in his testimony that: “camping [in the field] was not an unlawful act.”

On the other hand, he noted that whoever was residing at the anti-shale gas encampment was committing an arrestable act.

“Absolutely they are,” testified Bernard. “They are part of an unlawful protest.”

According to Bernard, the illegal participation thus extends to every single act that anyone at the anti-shale gas encampment would have engaged in. Whether they were protesting, or sleeping in their tents – as was the case on the morning of October 17th - when the RCMP first began sweeping in a semi-circle sweep through the field in which they were camped.

The end goal of the raid, in terms of the police positioning, was for the RCMP to gain control of both sides of highway 134, in order that SWN's equipment might leave the compound unchallenged.

By the time of the beginning of the semi-circle pinch of the encampment, the RCMP had already gained control of the far side of highway 134.

They already had control of the main gate by which the equipment could freely leave.

They already had control of the compound itself and an ATV trail leading to highway 134, due to dubious 'negotiations' the evening before where the Mi'kmaq Warriors Society (MWS) and the RCMP had agreed that police officers should replace Irving-owned private security firm Industrial Security Limited (ISL) guards, after ISL guards had begun to provoke protestors on October 15th and 16th.

Simply put, with unencumbered access to highway 134 from the far side and control of the main exit gate, there was absolutely nothing to stop the RCMP from simply crossing the two lane highway and seizing control of the near side.

Such a manoeuvre would have given those camping in the field the luxury of choosing to engage the RCMP or not, rather than getting caught up in a pre-dawn encirclement with the only option of exit to run the gauntlet of RCMP along highway 134; RCMP who only the evening before had negotiated and had passed tobacco to members of the MWS as a sign of good faith.

And that morning were in effect betraying them.

Instead, Tactical Commander Bernard and his cohorts chose the method of most potential violence, even though he himself testified that he had no credible sources of information to suggest the encampment was armed.

The timing. Less about volatility, more about injunction challenge.

While the dominant police narrative has focused on the increasingly volatile situation at the encampment on October 15th and 16th, we know this to be false.

If anything, the volatility was due to pre-planned and provocative acts undertaken by members of Industrial Security Limited, who, counter to negotiated codes of conduct, began to exit the SWN compound and visit the anti-shale gas 'sacred fire' while armed.

This resulted in a series of negotiations between the MWS and the RCMP, where it was decided that police officers – ostensibly more professionally trained than ISL guards – would replace ISL guards on the evening of the 16th.

Likely ISL was included on the strategic planning of the October 17th raid, which we have learned was 'activated' as early as the morning of October 15th. Having armed RCMP staff within the compound – and in control of an adjacent ATV trail - on the morning of the 17th would have been a key asset to the RCMP's tactical planning.

Thus creating a scenario where ISL presence became untenable, to be replaced by a kindly force of RCMP within the compound.

It is also key to note that a legal challenge to the very injunction that allowed for the RCMP's October 17th raid was scheduled for the very next day.

By October 21st, the injunction had successfully been overturned in a Moncton courthouse.

But by then the damage had been done.

The protest had been temporarily smashed.

Key members of the MWS had been arrested during the semi-circle sweep.

And SWN's equipment had been liberated, thus allowing the provincial government's aim of hydraulically fracturing significant portions of New Brunswick to continue.

Lack of communication between the lethal overseers and Tactical troops.

During the October 17th raid, we have learned that a member of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) had Germaine Breau trained in the sights of his M-16 assault rifle for the duration of the time he was allegedly handling his rifle. Earlier in the week this individual testified that he came very close several times to shooting Breau, even going so far as to begin squeezing the trigger of his M-16 when Breau began to shoulder his rifle.

This Constable Frenette, with lethal overwatch of the situation (meaning basically the decision to kill was his to make), was stationed behind Breau, under the cover of a wood pile on the far side of highway 134.

What was not being communicated between Frenette and officers pinching off the individuals still in the encampment (myself included), was that Breau's back was trained in Frenette's sights.

What was not being communicated to Frenette was that Breau was not allegedly aiming his rifle at random individuals in the field in front of him.

Rather, as Corporal Lacroix, pivot and section leader of eight men in 'C division' from Quebec, testified today, Breau allegedly aimed his gun at him twice – each time in relation to Lacroix's attempt to arrest Peter 'Seven' Bernard, the MWS war chief.

Indeed, Lacroix testified that he first attempted to arrest Bernard on his own. This attempt, in coming out of the field and approaching Bernard along Hannay Road, resulting in the first alleged gun pointing.

Lacroix then retreated into the field, but not long afterwards was instructed by a superior officer via radio communication to try to arrest Bernard again. This despite the fact that Breau and the alleged rifle cover he provided to Bernard had not changed his position. And all the while Breau was in Frenette's sights.

On his second attempt, Lacroix brought a member of his section, a Sergeant Bilodeaux, with him.

Again, Breau allegedly pointed his rifle at Lacroix. And this time, according to testimony heard today, three other members of Lacroix's section felt that Breau allegedly pointed his rifle at them. Even though Bilodeaux was the only officer to accompany Lacroix in the attempt to once again arrest Bernard.

Up all night with a licence to kill.

Numerous members of the ERT have testified that they were activated on the morning of October 15th, and had not slept prior to the raid of October 17th. By conservative estimates, that's at least 30 hours without sleep.

ERT members had lethal oversight of the raid.

In effect this meant that once the potential of grievous bodily harm became in their minds a reality – with the tossing of Molotov cocktails and the handling of a rifle – the raid became their mandate, as did the decision to kill.

The timing of Lacroix's attempted arrest of Bernard.

After trying twice to arrest Bernard – and twice being allegedly being rebuffed by Breau pointing a rifle at him and his men – Lacroix retreated into the field.

At some point after this, it became apparent to the RCMP that those who remained at the encampment had not been informed, or served, with the injunction.

This was apparently of enough importance to the tactical bosses of raid that the injunction was later read several times over the loud hailer of a police vehicle stationed at the far end of highway 134.

Indeed, it was Tactical Commander Bernard who later in the morning personally served Seven Bernard the injunction by throwing it on his shoulder.

This is important because Lacroix's attempted arrest of Bernard – the arrest which precipitated the alleged gun pointing – may well have been without cause. On police video, at the time of the attempted arrest Bernard was simply wandering along Hannay road. He was not doing anything arrestable, other than simply being, which in the mind of Tactical Commander Bernard made him part of an illegal protest; that is, provided he had been duly served with the binding injunction.

Which he apparently had not.

Lack of communication. Francophone officers at key engagement positions.

Today's day in court highlighted the testimony of four RCMP members of 'C division' from Quebec. Of them, only pivot and section leader Corporal Lacroix was able to testify or understand questioning without a French translator.

These four men were the first individuals to engage members of the MWS as they attempted to sweep the field in which they were camped. Police video shows them stationed closest to Hannay road, at the head of the sweep manoeuvre.

Police video also shows the tension of the situation escalating and deescalating over the course of the raid. The majority of the calmer segments of the video are of members of Lacroix's section speaking to an Acadian individual, the only French speaking person at the encampment, and arguably the only person that the majority of officers tasked with engaging the MWS could even understand.

All this creates a situation of arguably unecessary engagement; a situation poorly organized, that is, if the desired outcome was simply for a peaceful liberation of SWN's equipment from the compound.

That the raid itself was organized for conflict can potentially be summed up with the voice of Tactical Commander Bernard as heard on the police video.

At a heated moment of the rifle standoff, with an M-16 trained on Breau's back and Frenette's finger on the trigger, Bernard's voice crackles through the cameraman's radio.

"Is it time for a little more convincing and start moving in?" asks Bernard.

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