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

Eight arrested in protest against Muskrat Falls project

Published on April 5, 2013

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