The president of the Nunatu-Kavut Community Council is claiming Wednesday’s provincial Supreme Court decision regarding protests at Muskrat Falls as a victory for the group.
The decision maintains protestors cannot enter Nalcor Energy’s worksite, or stand in the way of contractors entering and leaving, but also orders an area near the site be identified for use by protesters.
The order is a result of the NunatuKavut council’s challenge to an earlier decision, on Oct. 11, prohibiting protesters from being on or “adjacent to” the construction area.
“Nalcor had a very sweeping, all-encompassing order, that was granted to it by a court without us present,” NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell said following the latest ruling.
“We’re quite happy that the judge has upheld our constitutional rights of speech, our constitutional right of assembly and no doubt that we will be expressing ourselves again lawfully,” he said.
“We look forward to (November), when we will have a full hearing, a full discussion of the facts and we hope that the judge will certainly see fit to quash this order altogether.”
Russell said statements made by Nalcor representatives — suggesting the protests that preceded the original injunction were unsafe — are misleading.
“My affidavit speaks for itself. There was never a safety issue. There was never a blockade in the first place. Nalcor will have to go to court (in Happy Valley-Goose Bay) on Nov. 6-7 and prove all of the elements in order for this interim court order to stay intact, and we will see how that plays itself out,” he said.
Within the reasoning for his decision, Justice Wayne Dymond stated safety for site workers and protesters, as well as protester rights, were considerations.
“Now that I have heard the
position of (Russell and the NunatuKavut Community Council), I am satisfied that the leadership will be able to notify its members of what they can and cannot do. I am hopeful they will abide by the following order which will allow the NunatuKavut Community Council respondent, its members or anyone else to put forth their position without fear of being arrested,” Dymond wrote.
That said, he also stated workers moving to and from the site, “carry oil, gas and explosives materials,” and safety is a consideration in the case.
He ordered Nalcor to create a safety zone — an area “adjacent to the intersection of the Caroline Brook Forestry Access Road and the Trans-Labrador Highway” for protesters.
Dymond added, “it is necessary to ensure that (Nalcor Energy) is not prohibited from carrying out work along the present lands outlined for road construction and some preliminary site construction.”
In a statement issued mid-day Wednesday, Nalcor announced it will create the “safety zone” for protestors, noting the idea was proposed by the Crown corporation.
“The injunction allows Nalcor to continue its site construction work at Muskrat Falls without interruption,” a spokeswoman stated.
In his order, Dymond has spelled out what protestors can and cannot do at this point.
Protesters should feel free to carry signs and offer printed materials with their thinking and arguing their position, but they cannot block access to the Muskrat Falls construction site or approach vehicles entering and leaving the site, using the safety zone.
Protesters are being told “to not approach within 150 metres of the Caroline Brook Forestry Access Road, its extension to the site, nor the site by foot or any motorized vehicle including a snow machine, a quad or other all-terrain vehicle, with exception of having access to the safety zone.”
Nalcor Energy vice-president Gilbert Bennett has previously said he does not want protestors delaying the project by denying contractors access to the site or intimidating workers, but has also said the Crown corporation is interested in the safety of both workers and protesters.
“Ensuring we operate a safe work environment is the most important thing we can do as a company. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously,” Bennett stated.