Prelude to the Raid
Interview with Warrior Society District chief suggests Irving-owned security, RCMP, engaged in pre-October 17th charge trumping.
by Miles Howe
Why did this Industrial Security Limited employee approach a sacred fire, while armed, on October 15th? [Photo: Miles Howe]
REXTON, NEW BRUNSWICK – The dominant police-fuelled discourse circulating is that on October 17th, the police were forced to raid an armed camp of anti-shale gas protestors along highway 134, near Rexton, New Brunswick.
Adding fuel to this narrative is the fact that the police have laid several charges, ranging from threats to assault to unlawful confinement, in relation to events that they claim occurred on October 15th and 16th.
The end result is a story in which the RCMP, despite drawing in Emergency Response Teams from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and New Brunswick; despite raiding an until-then peaceful encampment with guns drawn in the pre-dawn on the 17th; despite firing numerous rounds of less-lethal ammunition into unarmed people at point blank range; and despite spraying men and women with pepper spray, were simply de-escalating a tense situation.
However, an interview with Signigtog District War Chief Jason Augustine – himself present at the encampment since it’s inception, and now facing numerous charges – begins to peel back the layers of the RCMP’s imagery, and presents a very different recounting of events that occurred over October 15th and 16th.
It’s a story that shows a clear attempt by Irving-owned Industrial Security Limited to taunt and bait members of the Warriors Society on October 15th and 16th – in some cases going directly against already-negotiated agreements that existed between the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society and the RCMP – in order to create a fiction in which the Warriors could be later charged with a variety of accusations that supposedly occurred on those two days.
It’s also a story that shows the RCMP negotiating in extremely poor faith..
Since late September, 2013, Irving-owned Industrial Security Limited was the main security unit patrolling the fenced-in compound where SWN Resources Canada’s equipment was being held along highway 134. Generally, and for the duration of the life of the encampment, there were between about four and ten security guards patrolling the fenced-in area.
The fenced-in compound had one main gate, at the corner closest to the access road to highway 134. But the fence around the compound itself was not a permanent structure, and pieces could quickly be latched and unlatched, creating make-shift gates at any desired point.
Indeed, because the one main gate opened onto the 134 access road, which had become one of the main traffic points of the encampment, Augustine notes that the Warrior Society and the RCMP had earlier negotiated that ISL shift changes would take place via an already-built back road that opened onto an off-ramp of highway 11.
ISL guards would leave the fenced-in compound at the extreme opposite corner of the compound, about 200 meters from the main gate, through a make-shift gate. This was a scenario that had been taking place in good faith for numerous days prior to October 15th.
“We had already set a negotiation [regarding] the backside [of the compound]”, says Augustine. “We made them a road where [ISL workers] could go in and back out. And each time the shift change started there were always two Warriors and four RCMPs [to escort the workers]. We negotiated that with Denise Vautour and Marc Robichaud (two of the RCMP’s negotiators). We negotiated that and we all said ‘That’s pretty good, we’re in a working [compromise] right now.’”
Yet on October 15th, in a situation that Augustine cannot remember happening during the duration of the encampment, an ISL security guard, later identified as former New Brunswick Highway Patrolman Gary Flieger, opened the front gate of the fenced-in compound and began wandering around an area of the encampment where a sacred fire had been lit.
He had crossed a line of cedar that had been placed on the gravel road in front of the sacred fire, and was standing – armed, according to Augustine – in front of the fire. This was where Coady Stevens, another member of the Warriors Society, found Flieger.
It is of particular importance to note that – according to Augustine – the Warrior Society and the RCMP had even negotiated for the possibility that an ISL security guard would want to come and pray at the sacred fire. The guards could come and pray any time they wanted, but neither they, nor anyone else, was permitted to bring weapons of any kind to the sacred fire.
“[ISL] already knew,” says Augustine. “When we negotiated the first time, when an ISL worker comes out to the sacred fire – because they were welcome, anytime they were welcome – as long as they don’t have any weapons. [But] they could come and pray with us anytime they want. And that was part of the negotiations. They could come out at any time and pray with us, or go out the back way and shift change then.”
Augustine describes a brief altercation that then took place, one that he suggests Flieger took to a physical level. But for one quick push of Flieger, and for escorting Flieger back through the front gate of the fenced-in compound, Coady Stevens – who remains incarcerated and who was denied bail – faces charges of assault, threats and unlawful confinement. All these charges are, of course, pre-October 17th.
Lost in the dominant narrative is why Flieger left the front gate of the compound on the morning of the 15th and wandered, armed, to a sacred fire. Lost also is how, with an already-built back gate that was frequently used, any of this constitutes unlawful confnement.
There was no shift change taking place at the time. Indeed shift changes took place at the exact other end of the fenced-in compound. If Flieger wanted to pray at the sacred fire, not something he had done during any of his other shifts, Augustine suggests that he was welcome to do so – provided he approached the fire unarmed.
This is especially problematic if, as Augustine suggests, RCMP negotiators Denise Vautour and Marc Robichaud had already negotiated these terms in good faith with the Warriors.
Augustine notes that on the evening of the 15th, RCMP negotiator Denise Vautour again texted him, asking about the altercation that had happened.
“On the night of the 15th I got a text from Denise [Vautour] saying ‘What’s going on down there? How come a Warrior is pushing ISL?’” says Augustine. “Right off the bat we told them ‘Hold it. ISL came out to the sacred fire with his weapon out. Remember when we negotiated that they’re not supposed to have weapons around the sacred fire.’ She said ‘OK, we didn’t know that.’ Then she asked if we could meet. I said ‘Yes, we’ve got to meet and talk about this and resolve this as quick as possible, in a peaceful way’…That night we all agreed that: ‘Yes, everything is peaceful again. Let’s keep it that way.’”
The morning of the 16th, apparently, was out of the ordinary as well. Augustine notes that ISL staff was being especially belligerent to the Warriors who were stationed at the fence.
“When I came out I told [ISL]: ‘Whoa guys you have to be peaceful,’” says Augustine. “This was from the RCMP. I told them right of the bat that we’d been negotiating all this time for peace, and that you guys have to cooperate with us.”
Several Warriors have been charged with threats related to the 16th of October. It is assumed that these charges are related to this series of verbal altercations.
Augustine notes that the Warriors had also already negotiated with the RCMP in order to create a neutral ‘no-go’ zone around the fenced-in compound, in order that ISL security working within the fenced-in compound would not be verbally harassed by over-exuberant activists.
“It was always a concern for their safety too,” says Augustine. “We wanted them safe, because we knew that they were only there for their jobs.
“That morning, when things were escalating, right off the bat we went to Denise [Vautour] and Marc [Robichaud] and said ‘You’ve got to help us. These guys are not being peaceful. You guys have got to help us bring in the RCMP instead of ISL.’”
Mid-morning of the 16th, another meeting was held between the Warriors Society and the RCMP. In effect, what was being negotiated was a replacement of ISL security – which over the last two days had begun to act in an aggressive manner – with an RCMP contingent that would either remain in the fenced-in compound or patrol the ‘no-go’ zone – and monitor SWN’s equipment. In the interim, Augustine notes that he asked for the Warriors to vacate the ‘no-go’ zone to de-escalate the situation.
According to Augustine, after analyzing the situation, RCMP negotiators Vautour and Robichaud came to a similar conclusion as the Warriors: It was ISL security who was escalating the situation, not the Warriors.
“Denise [Vautour] and Marc [Robichaud] came along and said: ‘Jason, the RCMP are coming now, they’re going to take [ISL] out for you. We finally realized that they’re the problem too.’ So they were taken out right away.”
Augustine notes that the security duty exchange between ISL and RCMP took place between 3 and 4pm.
By the night of the 16th, Aboriginal RCMP negotiators had been brought in, supposedly in an attempt to calm the situation. Augustine again notes that these new negotiators, a constable ‘Fraser’ from Saskatchewan and a constable Walter Denny from Nova Scotia, confirmed with him that it was ISL security who was acting in a provocative and aggressive manner.
“Fraser and Denny] said: ‘These guys were very disrespectful, and on your guys’ part, you guys were just here trying to keep the peace,” says Augustine. “'[ISL] was so disrespectful that they were even disrespectful to us, because we were Natives.’”
With RCMP officers now replacing the “disrespectful” ISL security force, Augustine notes that the Aboriginal RCMP negotiators made further attempts to court peace with the Warriors.
“That night, around 10pm, constable Fraser and constable Denny came up to us. They wrapped tobacco in red felt and told us: ‘From now on it’s going to be peaceful.’ And they handed me the tobacco,” says Augustine. “They handed it right to me and said: ‘This is for peace. We understand that you guys only want peace. So everything’s going to be peaceful now. Negotiations have to start now.’
“We took the tobacco, me and Jim [Pictou]. We all shook hands. And we gave them tobacco too. I took tobacco out of my cigarette pack, broke it, and gave one to Walter [Denny] and one to Fraser and I told them ‘Yes, it’s now peaceful now.’ I took the tobacco back to our sacred bag. We had a bag full of a lot of our sacred stuff; sweet grass, sage, buffalo sage and all the medicines that we have there. And they left.”
Having successfully negotiated for the removal of the ISL security team, to be replaced by a patrol of RCMP officers, and having been given tobacco by two Aboriginal negotiators who allegedly confirmed the disrespectful nature of the Irving-owned employees, Augustine notes that the rest of the evening of the 16th, up until the morning of the 17th, was entirely uneventful.
The raid of the 17th , in which dozens of RCMP officers surrounded the Warriors encampment with a variety of weaponry already drawn, was a surprise to Augustine, both in terms of the amount of armaments, but more importantly in terms of the RCMP’s intent of the night before.
“That morning when I woke up to do my traffic control, I started about 6:30,” says Augustine. “I got my coffee ready and I didn’t even start drinking my coffee when the RCMP came out with guns drawn on us. The night before was peaceful. Even the RCMP was kind of happy that it was peaceful now. Nobody was escalating. Everybody was laughing. Everybody was drumming. Even the RCMP would drive by and wave to us. They knew it was peaceful.
“But all of a sudden that October 17th morning…Holy. All of a sudden they came up with guns drawn…Where’s that peace?”
When analyzing the potential of ISL – and their Irving paymasters – knowingly crafting a scenario involving trumped up charges against members of the Warriors Society, all the while working in collusion with the RCMP – and their Crown paymasters – it is also important to remember that a public hearing against SWN’s injunction against protestors was set for the morning of October 18th in Moncton.
The injunction named all of New Brunswick – under John and Jane Doe – as being potentially on the legal hook for inhibiting SWN’s access to it’s seismic testing equipment. Pre-18th legal opinions put forward on social media sites suggested that the injunction didn’t have a legal leg to stand on – indeed the injunction was subsequently overturned – but it did serve the purpose of intimidating activists concerned about their own estates from attending the encampment.
The 18th, and the potential of the public hearing overturning the injunction, presented a situation that may well have seen a surgin renewal of people at the highway 134 encampment. Crafting a narrative to negate that potential through strange actions, including having ISL guards leaving a front gate not used for shift changes and approaching a sacred fire while armed, and taunting Warriors who had made a habit of not only peacefully escorting ISL security during shift changes, but feeding the guards with home-cooked meals, resulted in a series of pre-raid charges.
Just the narrative needed for a pre-18th raid.
With these charges in their back pocket, the RCMP was free to create an ‘escalating tension’ scenario that they could then feed to a mainstream press. Coupled with the photogenic imagery of burning police cars and a press conference with a table full of armaments – neither of which can be yet, if ever, attributed to members of the Warriors Society – and the justification for the pre-dawn raid was set.
According to Augustine, from one side of their mouths RCMP negotiators spoke of peace, offered gifts and agreed that it was ISL security who was the incendiary side of the equation. All the while, however, a series of pre-raid charges, which still hang over numerous members of the Warriors Society, was being levied against them.