MONTREAL — Federal officials closely tracked the fallout of an RCMP raid on a First Nations protest against shale-gas exploration in New Brunswick, at one point raising concerns it could spawn another countrywide movement like Idle No More.
Documents obtained under access-to-information legislation reveal a lengthy email chain last fall monitoring events related to a blockade near Rexton, N.B., about 70 kilometres north of Moncton.
Members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, who were concerned about the environmental impact of shale-gas development, didn’t want energy company SWN Resources to do testing work on their traditional territory.
Police officers enforced an injunction on Oct. 17 to end the blockade of a compound where the company stored exploration equipment.
The early-morning raid led to violent clashes between officers and protesters. By the end of the day, six police cars had been torched and 40 people arrested.
A scene of protesters clashing with RCMP near Rexton, NB on Thursday, October 17, 2013. The protest, by mostly Elsipogtog First Nation participants, over shale gas exploration (fracking) resulted in several burned police cars after molotov cocktails were thrown. (CREDIT: J.P. GAGNON)
As the situation unfolded, a government official sent an email reporting “growing support of protesters by first nation (sic) communities and other groups across the country.”
“An ‘Idle No More’ like movement of protests is reportedly being planned starting tomorrow,” wrote Alain Paquet, director of operations for Public Safety Canada.
“We will keep you informed through our Situation Reports…”
Those in the email chain included staff within the Privy Council Office, the central bureaucracy which serves the prime minister and cabinet.
The Government Operations Centre, an arm of Public Safety Canada, emailed out daily reports detailing planned protests across the country.
On its website, the centre says it provides an “all-hazards integrated federal emergency response to events.”
A notice emailed later on Oct. 17 gave a rundown of planned protests and whether they posed a threat of violence.
“Other than the events at Rexton, N.B., so far calls are for peaceful action,” the notice said.
“Most of the protest activity to date under the Idle No More banner or related environmental or First Nations issues activities have been peaceful.”
The daily updates were compiled using media reports and information from the RCMP. But much of the information was derived by monitoring social media postings from the protesters themselves.