Nalcor takes down protest sign, admits it was bad decision
© Photo By Derek Montague/The Labradorian
James (Jim) Learning (left) and his brother John Learning (right) pose with the Muskrat Falls protest sign they helped make. This sign spent more than month in a cleared lot across from the work site until it was removed by Nalcor. It was returned a short time later, with Nalcor admitting the decision to remove the sign was "not appropriate."
On Thursday, Jim Learning heard a rumour a sign he erected in October to protest the Muskrat Falls project had been taken down.
The 4x8 sign — made by Jim, his brother John, and a few other NunatuKavut members— was placed in a clearing across from the entrance to the work site.
The clearing was specifically a place for people to hold protests following a court injunction last year that prevented demonstrators from being within 50 metres of the site.
"We felt that that space over there needed to be utilized in some form (of) protest. It was a protest site, so I felt there should be a protest sign there," said Learning.
"The courts designated that for us and there's a sign at the back of the lot saying exactly that — nobody can touch this site, this is our site."
Jim drove to the clearing Thursday night, no tbelieving the sign — with the message "STOP, MUSKRAT FALLS PROJECT, DEATH OF 8 RIVERS, TRAMPLED RIGHTS, MAKE WORK PROJECT, CORPORATE WELFARE" — had actually been removed.
When he arrived at the clearing, he saw the stand in the ground, but no sign on top of the four wooden stakes.
"I was delighted," says Learning. "I thought (to myself), that sign had effect."
"So I came back and I called the vice-president (of NunatuKavut Community Council)...and said we need to lay charges, because somebody stole our sign."
At the time, it wasn't clear who might've been responsible for removing the sign. But in an emailed statement to The Labradorian, Gilbert Bennett, vice-president, Nalcor Energy Lower Churchill Project, admitted the energy company chose to take it down, but then quickly realized it had made a mistake.
"Nalcor had some concerns expressed about the sign and the company made a decision to remove it; however, upon further consideration we realized that decision was not appropriate and we have placed the sign back. We do respect the rights of those who have objections to the project to share those objections in this manner," states the email.
When asked if Nalcor could provide specifics about the concerns they had about the sign, the email response stated, "No, just that there were concerns expressed originally but the sign has since been put back."
Jim and John Learning went back to the clearing Friday night after hearing the sign was back up. They weren't happy that it wasn't 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.
Now, the sign was at the back of the cleared lot, and lower to the ground than before.
Jim and John vowed to go back the next day with tools to put the sign back on its original stand.
Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, is livid with Nalcor for removing the sign.
"I could not believe that...the company would stoop to such lows," said Russell. “I would have thought that the company would have better things to do, like properly manage a project than to spend their time around a 4x8 sign."
Like Learning, Russell says he didn't believe the story could be true, when he first heard someone removed the sign.
"It was so incredible...I didn't think this was actually serious. And I can not actually believe now that they went through with it, and actually took the time to order their people to take down this sign."
"Who the hell is...Nalcor to censor individuals, members of NCC, or whoever? They do not own this land, and far from it."
Bennett's admission that the decision to remove the sign was "not appropriate" does not satisfy Russell. The NCC president said the incident will only add fuel to the fire.
"They should apologize. They should apologize to our people and do what's right.
"That sign had every right to be there. Just because someone doesn't like what's on it or the message it sends, that's no reason for them to think that they have some power to go out there and justtear down people's property."
Russell said he is considering making an official complaint about the removal of the sign.
"Yes, maybe the RCMP should be looking at charges against the company or an individual."