On Monday, NunatuKavut elder James (Jim) Learning filed an official complaint to the RCMP in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, accusing Nalcor of stealing a protest sign that was located across from the Muskrat Falls work site entrance.
© — Submitted photo
James Learning (left) and John Learning (right) pose next to their Muskrat Falls protest sign Saturday after putting it back in its original spot.
Labrador district media liaison Cpl. Rick Mills confirmed Tuesday that the RCMP received the complaint and a member of the force will be assigned to look into the allegations.
The controversy started late last week when Nalcor removed the anti-Muskrat Falls project sign, which reads “STOP, MUSKRAT FALLS PROJECT, DEATH OF 8 RIVERS, TRAMPLED RIGHTS, MAKE WORK PROJECT, CORPORATE WELFARE.”
In an email to The Labradorian last Friday, Nalcor vice-president Gilbert Bennett said Nalcor had “concerns” about the sign and removed it.
But Nalcor officials soon realized the decision was “not appropriate” and the company put the sign back, he said.
Learning was one of several people who helped make the sign that was removed. He says he made an official complaint to the RCMP to send a message that Nalcor must be kept in check.
“For me, it’s to keep the story alive, that these people are not above reports. … I mean, today (it’s) your sign, tomorrow your house,” says Learning.
“That kind of authority should not be unfettered.”
On Dec. 13, 2012, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador granted Nalcor a permanent injunction against the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC). Part of the injunction prevents anybody from protesting within 50 metres of the Muskrat Falls work site.
The court also ordered that Nalcor construct a “safety zone” near the site where people can lawfully assemble and protest. It is within this area that the protest sign in question was erected in October.
The court order clearly states that the use of signage for the purpose of protest is allowed within the safety zone.
“Nalcor is to construct forthwith a safety zone (the ‘Safety Zone’) adjacent to the intersection of the Caroline Brook Forestry Access Road and the Trans-Labrador Highway,” reads the order, which is posted on a sign in the safety zone.
“Nalcor is to maintain the Safety Zone, including providing snowclearing.”
“The respondents, and others, may use the Safety Zone to lawfully assemble and disseminate by sign or in person any information concerning a claim to aboriginal rights or a position as it relates to the Muskrat Falls generation project.”
After hearing that Nalcor put the sign back, James Learning and his brother, John, drove to the safety zone to check it out for themselves. They were surprised to see that the sign was not put back in its original spot.
When the sign was erected in October, it stood near the entrance of the clearing, in clear view for anyone driving past on the Trans-Labrador Highway.
The re-erected sign was at the back of the cleared lot, and lower to the ground than previously.
The next afternoon, the two men, along with a friend, went back to the area with a set of tools and put the sign its original spot.
“That sign was placed way to the back of the lot. Nobody would actually see it, travelling from any direction,” says John Learning.
“So we said, ‘That’s where the sign belonged, out front, and that’s where it had to be, to se seen at all.’”
James Learning says the controversy over the sign has only motivated him to keep going with his activism. He and other NunatuKavut members are working on a second sign to be put up in the lot.
“The message is pertinent. The message is important. And the fact that it’s gotten through to them, it got their goat, means that I’m getting through to them. … So keep it going,” says Learning.
“I think that (the new sign’s) going to deal with numbers like costs, daily costs and such, stuff that people can remember and put their finger on immediately.”
The Labradorian made a request to interview Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor’s vice-president for the Lower Churchill project, but did not get a response by press time.