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On Thursday evening John Perkins was hauled out of a public meeting on Atlantic Gold’s proposed Cochrane Hill open pit mine, forced to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by the RCMP.
“It’s pretty outrageous that the police work at the beck and call of a mining company to arrest a citizen who’s doing nothing,” Perkins told The Chronicle Herald on Friday.
“They threw me to the ground, twisted my arm and the way he put handcuffs on crushed a nerve in my left hand. It was an excessive use of force and I feel my right to be in a public space was violated.”
The Earltown, Colchester Co., resident is a member of the group Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia that opposes gold exploration in the Warwick Mountain area.
He travelled to the presentation put on by three experts on tailings dams and management being put on by Atlantic Gold at the Sherbrooke Fire Hall. The company is seeking to build an open pit gold mine near the St. Mary’s River that would include a kilometer and a half long tailings pond with a 70 metre high retaining wall.
The proposed mine is opposed by the St. Mary’s River Association and some local residents.
Faced with significant public interest, Atlantic Gold agreed to host a second session on Wednesday.
Perkins, his traveling companion, head of the St. Mary’s River Association Scott Beaver and journalist Joan Baxter claim they were told to leave by an Atlantic Gold security guard at the beginning of the second session.
What led to the incident at the beginning of the second session depends on who you ask.
“After three polite requests to leave the meeting, the individual was informed that the RCMP would be called to escort them from the premises,” reads a statement from Atlantic Gold spokesman Dustin O’Leary.
“An RCMP officer then invited the individual to leave the building for a discussion, however, this person refused and became confrontational with the officers and was subsequently taken into custody and charged with trespassing and obstruction.”
The statement does not address whether, and if so, why Atlantic Gold told four people to leave the second meeting.
A video taken by River Association president Scott Beaver does not show Perkins being confrontational.
It shows the RCMP officer and an Atlantic Gold security guard approaching Perkins, who is sitting at the back of the room.
Perkins stands and says, “I’ve been invited to be here, why are you kicking me out?”
The officer again asks him to leave, then informs him that he is obstructing a police officer.
Perkins says “I am not obstructing you,” raises open hands and backs away and says, “I’m not in your way. I’m listening to this meeting.”
While journalist Joan Baxter asks O’Leary whether it is a public meeting, the RCMP officer pulls Perkins toward the door. When Perkins grabs hold of the door frame the officer lifts Perkins from the ground and carries him out. The unidentified security guard can also be seen grabbing Perkins’ arm.
Atlantic Gold chief operating officer Maryse Belanger sits and watches the ordeal and then denies she’d given the order for the four, who are all opposed to the mine, to be removed.
“I don’t know,” she said when asked by Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre.
“I honestly don’t know. ... In this room everybody can stay and ask questions.”
On Thursday, company spokesman O’Leary said, “These meetings were organized by Atlantic Gold and the company maintained the right to allow or not allow individuals to enter the meetings or ask individuals to leave.”
Perkins was released without charges and visited a hospital, where he was told that nerve damage to his hand will heal.
For his part, Plourde called Atlantic Gold’s claim that Perkins was being disorderly “a lie.”
“All he did during the first meeting was ask some pointed questions, as did many people in the room,” said Plourde.
“… At the second meeting he was simply sitting in a chair. I witnessed the whole thing. In over 20 years of environmental activism I have been to lot of public information meetings and I have never seen anything so shockingly brutal and inappropriate. There was absolutely no cause for the company to do what they did to this man.”
Mounties sent out a news release just after 2:30 p.m. Friday stating, “Sherbrooke RCMP responded to a 911 call indicating police assistance was required at a public meeting due to several persons causing a disturbance. An RCMP officer attended where a man was identified as one of the persons responsible. Despite repeated warnings to leave, the man refused and then resisted the officer’s attempt to arrest. The man was eventually controlled, handcuffed and later released without charge.”