UPDATE: Russell, other protesters face obstruction charges, RCMP say

Derek Montague and Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Eight arrested in protest against Muskrat Falls project

In the hours after the arrests of NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell and other protesters this morning on the Trans Labrador Highway, the number of protesters at the scene grew at one point to about 50 people.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay RCMP said they arrested eight protesters for blocking a highway used by workers travelling to the Muskrat Falls site. The incident occurred about 10 kilometres from the Muskrat Falls project site in an area known as the south coast turnoff. Traffic had been backed up for at least a kilometre.

RCMP say the protestors are charged with obstructing police officers and will appear in provincial court at a later date.

Kirk Lethbridge, spokesman for NunatuKavut Community Council, told The Telegram the protest against the Muskrat Falls project will continue.

"They said we were obstructing traffic," Lethbridge said. "We were milling around an intersection and a whole bunch of vehicles stopped.

"It is civil disobedience of a non-violent nature as we have always employed. And it is ironic that aboriginal peoples in other parts of the country of Canada can blockade for weeks and not be arrested and, here in Labrador, we stand in an intersection for two hours and we have eight people carried away, including our president, in handcuffs.

"For decades now, our leaders have been trying to enter into meaningful negotiations with the province on many issues, including Muskrat Falls, hunting rights, land rights and our aboriginal rights — and our land claim."

The group of protesters contained both young and old. Some even travelled from the south coast of Labrador to wave signs and delay traffic coming to and from Muskrat Falls.

Some the protesters indicated they want the Labrador Métis to be consulted and compensated in regards to Muskrat Falls. Others wanted the project stopped citing environmental impacts.

Around noon, the protesters stood in front of transport trucks that were getting on and off the south coast turnoff. RCMP moved in again to remind protesters not to block traffic. The protesters then stood in front of the trucks and walked an inch forward at a time allowing the trucks to move slowly.

Yvonne Jones, Liberal candidate for the upcoming federal byelection in Labrador, made an appearance at the scene. She shook hands and greeted the protestors.

“If you want to be a leader in Labrador, you need to listen to what everybody has to say,” Jones said. “People here this morning, they have a message. I think that every politician wanting to represent Labrador today, they should be down here. Show some respect to people who have issues and concerns, and talk to them.”

The crowd dwindled a bit at noon to about two dozen.

The Innu have a claim in Labrador recognized by the federal government and major project proponents like Nalcor Energy. So, too, do the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, whose settled land claim covers many coastal communities and the Torngat Mountains area in northern Labrador.

The NunatuKavut Community Council have yet to have their asserted claim accepted for negotiation by the federal government.

A recent federal ruling recognized the rights of Metis people — regardless of whether a claim was accepted or not — but the NunatuKavut Community Council is not categorized as a Metis group. The provincial government has stated they are considered "Inuit of Southern Labrador" as a result of past filings to government and in the courts.

With no recognized claim, the province and many corporations have refused to negotiate direct benefits for NunatuKavut's members.

On March 27, the NunatuKavut Community Council issued a statement noting their frustrations over what council members say has been a lack of fair consultation on the part of the provincial government regarding the Lower Churchill hydro project.

That statement warned the council was “beefing up its resources to protect its lands and waters and its aboriginal rights and interests in Labrador,” and was in the process of establishing an “on-the-ground action planning committee.”

The 10-seat committee has been created to plan and carryout protest actions, as directed by the board of the NunatuKavut Community Council.

The NunatuKavut Community Council has led previous protest actions against the Lower Churchill development, leading to a court order requiring members to stay away from work areas associated with the project.

•••

(Previous story)

The RCMP in Happy Valley-Goose Bay say eight protesters arrested this morning for blocking a highway used by workers travelling to the Muskrat Falls site are being charged with obstructing police officers.

The eight accused will appear in provincial court at a later date.

The RCMP says about 6 a.m. today, they responded to the area about 10 kilometres from the Muskrat Falls project site where a group of protesters was blocking the highway and impeding traffic.

This resulted in a line of vehicles approximately a kilometre long stopped on the highway.

The protesters were unco-operative when asked by officers to stop blocking traffic and when they refused, were arrested.

The RCMP says it will continue to monitor the situation.

•••

With former MP and NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell under arrest, the chair of NunatuKavut's new on-the-ground action committee, Kirk Lethbridge, has taken over communications for the group.

Lethbridge spoke with The Telegram by phone from the side of the Trans-Labrador Highway near Happy Valley-Goose Bay shortly before 11:30 a.m.

He said the protest launched this morning by the NunatuKavut Community Council — about 10 kilometres up the Churchill Falls road at the Southern Labrador intersection — is continuing, despite the morning's arrest.

He was not yet certain what the eight protestors who have been arrested and taken from the site, including Russell, are being charged with.

"They said we were obstructing traffic," Lethbridge said, before adding the group is non-violent and not interested in confrontation with the RCMP.

Asked if the group was, indeed, obstructing traffic, he responded: "We were milling around an intersection and a whole bunch of vehicles stopped."

He said the group, described as about 40 with more people on the way, is now at the side of the road.

"It is civil disobedience of a non-violent nature as we have always employed," he said. "And it is ironic that aboriginal peoples in other parts of the country of Canada can blockade for weeks and not be arrested and, here in Labrador, we stand in an intersection for two hours and we have eight people carried away, including our president, in handcuffs."

There were at least two rapid "honk, honk, honk" sounds of vehicles driving past the group during the short conversation.

"For decades now, our leaders have been trying to enter into meaningful negotiations with the province on many issues, including Muskrat Falls, hunting rights, land rights and our aboriginal rights — and our land claim," he said.

"We've been driven to this. We did not choose to do this action. We have been driven to this action."

The Innu have a claim in Labrador recognized by the federal government and major project proponents like Nalcor Energy. So, too, do the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, whose settled land claim covers many coastal communities and the Torngat Mountains area in northern Labrador.

The NunatuKavut Community Council have yet to have their asserted claim accepted for negotiation by the federal government.

A recent federal ruling recognized the rights of Métis people — regardless of whether a claim was accepted or not — but the NunatuKavut Community Council is not categorized as a Métis group. The provincial government has stated they are considered "Inuit of Southern Labrador" as a result of past filings to government and in the courts.

With no recognized claim, the province and many corporations have refused to negotiate direct benefits for NunatuKavut's members.

More to come.

•••

(Earlier story)

NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell was arrested this morning during a protest on the Trans-Labrador Highway against the Muskrat Falls project.

Russell, and about a dozen other NunatuKavut demonstrators, formed a traffic blockade early this morning preventing workers who were heading to Muskrat Falls from taking the South Coast turnoff on the highway.

NunatuKavut has long been opposed to the Muskrat Falls project.

The council believes the provincial government has not made an effort to negotiate and consult with the Labrador Métis in regards to the hydro electric project.

Two RCMP officers arrived on the scene and told the protestors that they couldn’t stop people from going into work, and that the highway would have to be reopened. The officers informed Russell and his group that refusing their orders would result in charges of obstruction.

A couple hours after the RCMP’s first warning, about six more officers arrived on scene with a paddy wagon. The officers asked the protestors one more time to step aside and let the Muskrat Falls traffic through.

The protestors, lead by Russell, responded by linking arms and lying on the road. One by one, the protestors were dragged to the paddy wagon and other RCMP vehicles. Some of the protestors went completely dead weight, forcing the police to use four officers to carry the person into custody.

Russell was one of the protestors that refused to stand up when being escorted by police. At one point his legs were dragging across the pavement, and his shirt was almost lifted over his head.

But, before Russell was put into custody, the RCMP grabbed the protestor who was lying to Russell’s right. Russell kept trying to reconnect arms with the woman, prompting an officer to warn Russell that he could be charged with assault, along with obstruction.

Jim Learning, 74, was also among the protestors arrested for obstruction. Learning is already facing charges from a protest last December where he and two other Métis elders crossed the gate into the Muskrat Falls work site.

Eight protestors arrested  — six men, two women.

Some NunatuKavut members and supporters are still on the highway but traffic to and from Muskrat Falls is going through.

 

•••

(Earlier story)

NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell has been arrested in relation to an on-the-ground protest in Happy Valley-Goose Bay — an attempt to draw attention to the council’s opposition to Nalcor Energy’s Lower Churchill hydro project.

Russell and council members are under a court order to stay away from the project site and not to interrupt the construction activity.

The exact reason for Russell’s arrest is not yet known, but TC Media has a reporter on the ground and will be providing further detail later this morning.

As of 9 a.m., about 20 people had gathered at a fork in the road on the Trans-Labrador Highway near Happy Valley-Goose Bay. “There is a police presence,” a spokeswoman for the NunatuKavut Community Council told The Telegram at that time.

She said more people were on their way to the protest site.

Back on March 27, the NunatuKavut Community Council issued a statement noting their frustrations over what council members say has been a lack of fair consultation on the part of the provincial government regarding the Lower Churchill hydro project.

That statement warned the council was “beefing up its resources to protect its lands and waters and its aboriginal rights and interests in Labrador,” and was in the process of establishing an “on-the-ground action planning committee.”

The 10-seat committee has been created to plan and carryout protest actions, as directed by the board of the NunatuKavut Community Council.

“This is another avenue we are taking to protect our lands and waters and assert our aboriginal rights in our traditional territory,” Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council said at the time.

Russell recently announced he would not be attempting to re-claim the title of Member of Parliament for Labrador, choosing not to run in the byelection soon to heat up, saying he would instead focus on his work on behalf of the NunatuKavut Community Council.

“We have met with ministers, we have written letters, we have done everything in our power to encourage government to sit at a table, hear our concerns and establish a meaningful consultation and accommodation process that works. We have asked for this time and time again to no avail,” he has said.

The NunatuKavut Community Council has led previous protest actions against the Lower Churchill development, leading to a court order requiring members to stay away from work areas associated with the project.

TC Media has a reporter on the ground at the latest protest action. More to come in tomorrow’s print and digital editions.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: NunatuKavut Community Council, Trans-Canada Highway

Geographic location: Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • TJ
    April 16, 2013 - 01:31

    There are many things I am proud of: My home in Labrador, being Metis and being an RCMP officer. I read everyone's comments posted and some are very disturbing. Knowing Todd there is no doubt that he had the best intentions when the idea of the protest were in it's intial stages. However, laying in the middle of a highway only has one outcome, and any civilized person would know that. Yet, understanding the reasoning behind the protest...but condeming the RCMP for doing what is expected and enforcing the law, is not right! For every action there is a re-action, no doubt that those who were laying in the middle of the roadway knew that. However, to me it all is just a ploy...and a good one to bring attention to a matter that is important to so many. Just a thought that's all....just remember all, we are Newfoundlanders with a proud history. Don't tear it down with slander and racism..

  • Marilyn
    April 08, 2013 - 07:33

    I was on the protest line & support Todd Russell & NunatuKavut Members & those arrested! Protest-look it up! Making remarks about our children, $ & so on is quite the comment! Makes one feel good I suppose. My children are raised & doing quite well & never endured any abuse or any of what was written here by non supporters. Plus, we have never received any $ from any where other than work & really not even any family allowance! Amazing-dumping us all in one bucket & toss out the accusations because you are dense! Plain & simple-you are dense, uninformed & pathetic! The Protest will continue & as our elder is held in custody I pray that you all find some respect, pride & dignity! I would share some of mine with you but you do not deserve any! Keep up the great work Todd Russell, Kirk & others who continue to stand for our People!

  • Metis Supporter
    April 07, 2013 - 00:13

    Way to go guys!! I only wish I could have been there to take part in the protest. I'm very disappointed in the racist comments on here. Sickens me to see but I guess some people are always going to be ignorant..you know who you are!! Indigenous people have been dealing with this type of racism for decades. We will rise above it as we always have.

  • Lloyd
    April 06, 2013 - 19:06

    Racism (the result of ignorance) is still alive and well. I have absented myself from the 'comments' section for a couple of years because of just that. There are some erroneous beliefs still being perpetuated here: NunatuKavut members are descendents of Southern Labrador Inuit who signed a Treaty in 1765 with the British Government via Nfld Governor Hugh Pallisar. We are indeed a recognized Aboriginal group within Canada under the Canadian Constitution Act (1982) see Sec 35 and 91.24 (recently upheld in Fedeeral Court. We have some agreements and working arrangements with the Canadian Government - why would they do that if we weren't 'recognized'? We have a land claim on file with the Federal Government for many years. We have won in the Nfld Courts (including the Nfld Supreme Court) a Duty To Consult cast (which the Fed Supreme Court recognized in that it would not accept the Nf Supreme Court application to appeal - means it has recognized that case). Sooo, Nfld has a Duty to Consult with NCC on this project under their own laws. Why will they not do this? They harass us as we carry out our traditional activities of hunting, fishing etc... Why? They have broken many many promises to us. Do not accept my 'comments' here. Do your own research, however, and I think you will find this is true. Nfld Government says it can't proceed unless Ottawa 'recognizes' us? Who said they can't? It is their decision to make. There is no such restriction on their powers, THEY HAVE THIS POWER. And they have a Duty to Consult. I suggest you go after them for answers, not the legitimate aims and concerns of a legitimate group of people who were here long before there was any European based government in Nfld. Go do some research, legitimate fact finding, not the word of some politician who has broken more promises than you know about.

  • EDfromRED
    April 06, 2013 - 10:15

    Easy to see now why the NL government bent over backwards to keep the police happy with funds in these cash strapped times. Every dictatorship worth it's salt needs a strong and complacent police --Public and/or Secret, to keep the common people down. Strange how the despite the increased police budgets, crime seems to be out of control. I guess they are busy being at the beck and call of the PC's and NALCOR.

  • saelcove
    April 06, 2013 - 09:57

    hard to believe the RCMP did there job

  • South Coaster
    April 05, 2013 - 20:36

    I think it is time for all those organizations and groups of people to realize that there is people in Labrador just as important as them and if we want things in Labrador then we need resources to subsidize all those groups of people and organizations.If they want money then get out and work for it and not just look for handouts or compensation. They are not concerned about their land the only thing they want is money....Admit it guy's...

  • stephen
    April 05, 2013 - 18:52

    offer them a days work to look after their OWN families,that will send them packing.

  • Pardy from Labrador
    April 05, 2013 - 17:07

    To those who disagree with the protesters and support the tenuous evidence supporting potential job growth that the Muskrat Falls project will supposedly bring: we need to discard the racism issue and make this about environmentalism and democracy again. Newfoundlanders who have little idea of what the situation is for Labradorians who see their land being taken away say they fear being labeled racists, but I have no doubt this is the last thing on the mind of the protesters. It's disconcerting that the very people who fear being called racists are the first to bring this up as if it was an issue. And, please leave the children in Labrador out of this. There are people in Labrador who need to look after their children and there are children who suffer from deep neglect - but this happens on the island, too. Get back to the real story here and drop the smoke and mirrors.

  • Jay
    April 05, 2013 - 16:06

    The Nunatukavut are a self-appointed aboriginal group, who are not recognized by the Federal government, or by anybody else except themselves. Look at their by-laws to see who can become a member. In fact anybody can. Also, many members support Muskrat Falls, right Yvonne. Notwithstanding, everybody in this province has a right to legal, peaceful, protest. But, we shouldn't confuse this with legitimate aboriginal issues. This isn't one of them.

  • EDfromRED
    April 05, 2013 - 16:02

    Easy to see now why the NL government bent over backwards to keep the police happy with funds in these cash strapped times. Every dictatorship worth it's salt needs a strong and complacent police --Public and/or Secret, to keep the common people down. Strange how the despite the increased police budgets, crime seems to be out of control. I guess they are busy being at the beck and call of the PC's and NALCOR.

  • Concerne
    April 05, 2013 - 14:37

    Does this mean that the federal loan garuntee is invalid pursuant to clause 3.5 x. This is another affront on democracy by the muskrat falls project. When the royal commission is established in 5 years today's activities will be featured. This is something the national media should be monitoring. Did e provincial government or the department of justice call in the cops

  • Albert Webber
    April 05, 2013 - 14:11

    Looks like that our taxes are being paid too the mining companies for a Private Army called R.C.M.P. Remines me of the railroad going through Metis land and a violation of there Rights in Manitoba in the 1880's and the mounties where sent in and Killed and arrested anyone who Resisted. Now the Metis can even fight for their rights...! What is wrong with this country?

    • John Smith
      April 05, 2013 - 16:48

      ...people like you...that's what is wrong with this country...

  • Anthony Elson
    April 05, 2013 - 14:10

    I fully support Todd Russel and all my brothers and sisters of Nunatukavut . I know what it is to take on the money people, go on the front lines and be arrested. To those arrested , be proud of what you do and why you do it you can now look your grandchildren in the eye without shame and say I did what i could

  • Heather Trimm
    April 05, 2013 - 11:51

    Kudos to Todd and the rest of the supporters for standing up for their rights and beliefs. We need more people like them in this province, country and the world in total. Truly admirable. It is simply not right for the government to go through with this because of a loop hole they have managed to find. Where is the loyalty? The sense of right and wrong? Not everything is about power and money and speak for myself and many other people when I say that I long for the day for a strong yet understanding and compassionate government and leadership.

    • Doc
      April 05, 2013 - 12:02

      Kudos to the RCMP for actually doing their job. They could teach the OPP a thing or two in Ontario

    • Alex P
      April 05, 2013 - 12:43

      The Metis of Labrador are too passive. This would not happen out West or in Ontario.

  • Duffy
    April 05, 2013 - 11:51

    Just looking for more money without accountability. They should be worried about the squandering of the free money they now get and the problems with their native children and lack of parental supervision. The RCMP did the right thing!

    • GradyGirl
      April 05, 2013 - 15:00

      Duffy, Before you mouth off maybe you should do a little more reading. Not the same people as you are accusing of child neglect. You muust be one of those Dumb Newfies!!

  • GP
    April 05, 2013 - 11:31

    Nunatukavut may have no claim at this time, but they do have a treaty with the British Crown from 1765 guaranteeing resource rights, the only treaty between any Inuit group and the Crown.

  • John Smith
    April 05, 2013 - 11:12

    There are 25,000 people in all of Labrador, 6,000 of them claim to be metis. We have over 500,000 in the province, the majority of which support this project. So, should this group be allowed to stymie the progress of this project? I think not. We all know what this is really about...but many are afraid to speak up for fear of being called a racist. Mr. Russel may get somewhere with this in the courts of law...I don't know...but laying down in the road and obstructing people who are trying to get to work will n ot get them anywhere in my opinion...except a trip to jail...

  • Don
    April 05, 2013 - 11:10

    Lock them up and throw away the key. Who the hell do they think they are , going around breaking the law. If that was in Torbay, they would be locked up and pay a fine but I bet these fools won't.

    • Observer
      April 05, 2013 - 16:32

      If this was in Torbay the project would never have started.... Newfies won't even allow cell towers in their backyards...

  • Jan Dymond
    April 05, 2013 - 11:00

    I truly wish I could be with the growing number of Labradorians who are soooooo proud of ALL the demonstrators....and especially of the continued dedication to what is important to Labrador by a former MP!! I can't remember the last MP to be arrested for standing up for a democratic priniciple, and I'm a great grandmother!! I just dearly wish I could be there yelling 'GOOOOO TODD GOOOOO" (nicely written report by the way....you captured some very important points)

  • GP
    April 05, 2013 - 10:14

    Keep up the good work Todd. I predict that some day the government will have to pay a huge settlement for what they are doing in Muskrat Falls.

    • William McCarthy
      April 05, 2013 - 11:07

      KEEP UP THE HONEST WORK YE ARE TRYING TO ACHIEVE Todd and Kirk and team .

  • justice
    April 05, 2013 - 10:14

    Lock em up.. Throw away the key. If not,we will see more senanigans like this province wide from other groups.

    • MN
      April 05, 2013 - 11:42

      sounds like to me that you are one of many who will benifit from the project. People like you should be locked up for being so ignorant towards RIGHTS of The People.

  • wanda white
    April 05, 2013 - 10:02

    What about our constitutional rights to live in a truly democratic society? We are being governed but ignored. People in HM Penitentiary get heard AND listened to quicker. Folks we don't have that any more. Join our group, DUNDERDALE MUST GO. We have both a petition and a poll. We are 1400 strong and growing because people are fed up with being pushed around.

    • V.B
      April 05, 2013 - 14:37

      Well put Wanda, I think Dunderdale must go to I would sign the petition!!

  • sheldon
    April 05, 2013 - 09:56

    looks good on them put todd in jail and throw away the key I say

  • saelcove
    April 05, 2013 - 09:45

    Why do we hate Quebec so much little man dan has a lot to do with it

  • frustrated
    April 05, 2013 - 09:44

    Well Maurice, that would be because the great Danny Williams, decided that they are not an aboriginal group. They are the only group in Labrador with an actual treaty, and they are the ones who signed affidavits regarding Newfoundland's presence in Labrador, keeping that portion of the province with newfoundland, as opposed to becoming part of Quebec. However, clearly it is far more important to continue to refuse the group their rights then have to respect them, so yes, our wonderful government will refuse them the rights to any benefits. Labrador, and the people who live there, don't benefit from their resources. Only the Newfoundland government

  • Jodi Greenleaves
    April 05, 2013 - 09:39

    It is a sad day in this country, when people who stand up for what they believe in, get arrested!! I am so proud of Todd Russell. I stood with him in 1996 and got arrested as well. I hope he can feel my spirit there with him, and the spirit of so many others who can not be there with today! I actually have tears in my eyes right now as I write this. My tears flow because I am proud of my people who choose to stand up for what is right, and also for frustration and anger at our government, who refuse to listen to the people and continue to go after the almighty dollar and forsake all that truly matters in this world, our beautiful land, the animals and OUR PEOPLE and their true connection to the land! There are those of you are all for this project, but let me remind you, after the deed is done and our land has been once again raped by our governments, where will that leave you then? Sure, you may have a bit more money in your pocket, but that will only last so long. I would never subject myself to working a job that allows the destruction of so many things, that are much more important than the things that money can buy you!

  • Asumma
    April 05, 2013 - 09:14

    Don't todd know that we MUST get around the Clutchs of quebec hydro.

    • Ignorant
      April 05, 2013 - 12:10

      Quebec hydro comes from Labrador!! And the lower Churchill project is sending the majority of its power everywhere else but Labrador! What about the communities along the coast of Labrador still with out hydro electricity??? Would Newfoundlanders put up with it? What about all the Labradorians being denied jobs? Our little town is filling up more and more with workers from outside!!! There are many people here that are qualified and cant even get an interview!! So I'm proud of what Todd is representing!! He represents the rights of Labradorians!!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 05, 2013 - 08:51

    Since Muskrat Falls is within the Nunatukavut land claims area, how can government just ride roughshod over the Nunatukavut right to be the principle beneficiary of their resources? Is what Nunatukavut is asking for any different than what Newfoundlanders and Labradorians ask for when it comes to the fishery, mineral resources, etc?