On Friday November 30th, a group of 20 or so demonstrators gathered by the entrance to 5 Wing Goose Bay to protest the planned Muskrat Falls project. The demonstration took place in response to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to the base to announce the federal loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls.
Concerned Labradorians, many from groups, such as environmental groups, aboriginal groups and people who are against the project, met at the gates of 5 Wing on Loring Drive waving flags and signs, showing their displeasure of Prime Minister Harper’s visit.
Around one o’ clock, Lake Melville MHA Keith Russell, who was on his way to the Harper news conference, arrived at the security checkpoint and was recognized by the protestors. A few of the protestors approached Russell in his vehicle. Accounts differ on what happened and what was said during the confrontation.
Linda Cull, one of the protestors, claims that Keith Russell used profanity when she engaged him in conversation.
“He became very, very, upset and several times… he told me to go F*** myself,” alleges Cull.
“It’s bully tactics. It’s the same behaviour that he used at the Labrador city arena.”
Cull admits that she, herself, used profanity while speaking with Russell. But she claims it was just an emotional response to how Russell was treating her.
“To be honest with you I was in such shock, I can’t even remember the exact words I used… I can’t even remember, it was too upsetting. He started it.”
But Keith Russell says the only people acting inappropriately were Linda Cull and a few of the other protestors.
“They began to knock on the windows and bang on the truck,” says Russell. “We were met with some pretty profane language, about the (Muskrat Falls) project, about us personally. Some pretty harsh words I won’t repeat.”
Jim Holwell was demonstrating with the other protestors when the confrontation between Linda Cull and Keith Russell occurred. Although he was nearby, He claims he could not hear what was said between the two. But, when he was talking to Russell at the checkpoint, Russell was acting civil.
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“I was talking to Keith himself…I was just talking to him telling him to come on and support us…there was nothing said to me in any way shape or form,” says Holwell. “I can honestly say I didn’t hear anything Mr. Russell said (to Linda Cull.).”
At the time of the alleged incident, Russell was traveling with his assistant Shannon Tobin, and his friend Shawn Hagerty. Hagerty insists that Russell didn’t use any profane language towards Linda Cull.
“That’s not true 110%...“I want this on the record, he did not swear,” he said.
Haggerty claims that he was the only person who used any curse words towards Mrs. Cull.
“I said grow up and that she should learn to separate his (Russell’s) personal life from hockey and politics. When she started cursing and swearing I told her to grow up, you’re talking out of your ass,” says Hagerty.
“I feel bad for Keith, he takes such abuse from the public eye when he tries to do his best.”
The alleged incident became known to the public just a short time later via a facebook group called HOLD Government ACCOUNTABLE. A woman named Marilyn Pardy posted that:
“MHA KEITH RUSSELL cannot control his emotions! He got goated into a verbal exchange on the road side at the Five Wing Goose Bay Base Gate @ 1:30 p.m. today. There are no words to describe what took place!! Keith Russell should resign!”
“If our MHA cannot control his emotions & decides to resort to pathetic behaviour in public, it leaves us with no choice but to ask that he step aside! We need an MHA not this”
But in an interview with The Labradorian, Pardy admitted she didn’t actually hear what Russell said. What she posted, she said, was based on Linda Cull’s version of events.
“I didn’t actually hear what was said,” says Pardy. “It was hearsay.”
“(But) I believe her (Cull), even though I didn’t hear it.”