Calling for review of police actions during April protest
© Derek Montague
About a dozen people from NunatuKavut staged a protest on the Trans Labrador Highway in April, calling on the province to beef up its consultation with the NunatuKavut government on the Muskrat Falls development. — TC Media file photo
Leaders with the NunatuKavut Community Council want a formal investigation into the police response to a council-led protest on the Trans Labrador Highway, near the Muskrat Falls work site, that started April 5.
The council has taken their request to the RCMP Complaints Commission.
The protest in question was followed closely by TC Media as the RCMP arrested eight protestors, including NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell.
In a statement issued today, Russell said the council has looked at similar protest actions across the country as part of the Idle No More movement. He claims those actions were not responded to as aggressively as the council’s protest- focused on the Lower Churchill project and work at Muskrat Falls.
“We are concerned that there was an unreasonable infringement of our rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, as manifested through peaceful protest,” he said.
“In all other cases that we are aware of, police cooperated with protesters and allowed them to exercise their rights.”
Russell claims the rights of the NunatuKavut Community Council were “trampled” by the RCMP.
The statement also claims the reaction was politically and financially motivated — as the protest action was affecting the first stage of the multi-billion dollar Lower Churchill hydro development.
The NunatuKavut Community Council has written a letter on the protest to the federal Minister of Public Safety, the office of the RCMP Commissioner and to the RCMP Aboriginal Advisory Committee requesting an investigation.
A message has been sent to the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador requesting comment.
The NunatuKavut Community Council does not have a settled land claim, or claim accepted for negotiation by the federal government.
An attempt made in part by the council, based in southern Labrador, to legally halt Lower Churchill project work — by contesting its release from environmental assessment — failed.
An injunction issued by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in November 2012 stated protest activities were not to come within 50 metres of the Muskrat Falls work site and established a "safety zone" for protesters.
In January, the council announced it was appealing that order, arguing it was heavy-handed, while continuing to encourage members to "exercise their aboriginal rights on their traditional lands."