Rexton, New Brunswick – After a member of the Warriors Society was seriously burned – and the RCMP denied an ambulance access – those who continue to live at the anti-shale gas blockade along highway 134 have decided to remove the felled trees from the highway in order to allow regular traffic to flow.
“There were seven of us sleeping in the teepee,” says Lisa Saulnier, member of Elsipogtog First Nation. “And of a sudden I could hear hollering and I looked over and the whole sleeping bag was just engulfed [in flames]. One of the boys called the ambulance to come in, and the RCMP would not allow it to come in. He had to walk to the far end of the camp to the ambulance.”
It is important to remember that it was the RCMP who originally blocked both sides of highway 134, and that the anti-shale gas activists only later felled the trees. Unlike the RCMP roadblock, which takes up both lanes of highway 134, the felled trees always allowed access to one lane of traffic.
Saulnier sees removing the trees as a means of ensuring public safety, and is in no way a sign that the encampment is fading in it's purpose of stopping SWN Resources Canada's seismic testing in New Brunswick.
“Taking the trees down [is a result of] the RCMP putting peoples' lives in jeopardy,” says Saulnier. “When they won't let an ambulance in when a person's gotten burned severely, that's putting a person's life on the line. That ambulance has to take an extra five or ten minutes to go around when they could go straight through.
“Say there's an elder in here who's had an accident. They'd have to walk them out. And within that extra five or ten minutes, they could have expired by then. What if it was a child, and something severe happened to a child?”
Jim Pictou, of the Mi'kmaq Warriors Society, notes that he has spoken to RCMP negotiators and the New Brunswick Department of Transportation, and that one lane of traffic will shortly resume along the currently-blockaded section of highway 134.
"We talked to the RCMP about bringing in the Department of Transportation cleaning up the highway,” says Pictou. “They're going to put up some 'slow' signs. The speed limit will be down from 80 to 50 [kilometres per hour] and they're going to keep one lane open, one lane closed. There's going to be RCMP at each end to help control traffic.”
Pictou also doesn't see the trees as a key physical obstruction.
“The trees were there just to keep cover for the people in the camp, for their safety once the RCMP blocked them in,” says Pictou. “The plan is to keep [SWN's seismic testing equipment] in there. Just our presence will keep them in there. Now with the road open, it opens it up to the people to see what we're doing.”
Du'ma Bernard, also of the Warriors Society – and part of the original negotiating team between the RCMP and the anti-shale activists – sees the RCMP's action of not letting an ambulance attend to an injured person as shameful.
Indeed, yesterday the RCMP was forthcoming in allowing in a truck into the Irving-owned compound in order to change the outhouses for the ever-present Irving-employed security guards who continue to keep watch on SWN's blockaded seismic testing equipment. The hypocrisy of allowing a toilet-cleaning truck through, but not an ambulance to attend to a seriously burned Indigenous person, was not lost on Bernard.
“Part of the original negotiations of dealing with the RCMP was making sure that safety was a protocol,” says Bernard. “And right at the beginning of the talks, safety of emergency vehicles such as ambulances and firetrucks were not to be halted at any given time by any side. This was given as my word, because I was part of those negotiations. Everybody had this understanding, because this is not about hurting people, this is about protection of the waters.
“I'm very disappointed that these necessities were neglected, were restricted. Now how would they feel if it was an RCMP officer that got burnt and we turned an ambulance back on them? That's no different. There has to be, and there will be, consequences. And it's not going to be one of these small guys sitting on the front lines. This is one of their superiors that allowed this to happen. And they think it's a joke. Human safety is not a joke.”