Supporters of the trio gathered in a line outside the prison, holding signs and speaking to passersby. It was not the first day and the half-dozen on site at this point were glad for the show of support from the RV driver, even before he leaned out his window.
“Get ’em out,” he said, echoing the protesters’ own statements to reporters. “Get ’em out of there.”
Whether or not the inmates could hear the RV or the honking from other passing drivers, signs of support for James Learning, Marjorie Flowers and Eldred Davis went on for hours. They are expected to go on again Tuesday, and until the three detained individuals are returned home.
The two men, NunatuKavut elders, and Flowers were taken into custody on Friday in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Justice George Murphy ordered them detained after they refused to sign an injunction specifying they would not interfere at the worksite of the ongoing Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
They were flown more than 800 kilometres from their homes. They are expected to be back in Happy Valley-Goose Bay a week from now, when their case is called in provincial court.
An Inuk woman named Beatrice Hunter spent 10 days in custody at HMP earlier this year, when she refused to make a similar agreement with the court. She was released only after agreeing to not go within a kilometre of the project worksites.
Jodi Greenleaves, originally from Cartwright, stood outside HMP when Hunter was incarcerated there. She said Monday she was upset to have to be back.
“It’s really frustrating,” she said. “My first thought when I arrived here three days ago, when we first came down, was, oh my god, I can’t believe we have to do this again.”
Greenleaves visited the night before with Flowers, who is her father’s partner. She said she hopes to be able to visit with her again Tuesday evening.
“She was in good spirits and we kind of laughed and joked around about a few things,” she said.
While upbeat, she said, Flowers understands why she is imprisoned. Greenleaves said Flowers, Learning and Davis all made a conscious choice to refuse to agree to the court’s conditions, to call attention to the Land Protectors’ call for action. The protesters want a forensic audit of provincial Crown corporation Nalcor Energy and the Muskrat Falls project, progress on the methylmercury issue and a full review of engineering related to the stability of the part of the dam site known as the North Spur.
Greenleaves hadn’t spoken with either Learning or Davis, but was hopeful to be able to see them in the coming days.
Michael Collins was also in front of HMP in support of the trio.
“When I first heard about this, I couldn’t believe it,” he said, describing himself as a Land Protectors supporter.
“When I found out they actually flew those three people here, I had to come down and see for myself: is this for real? And if it is, what can I do to help with the cause?”
Collins said there should be more effort to listen to the voices of individuals, as opposed to corporations — a clear problem with this project, he suggested.
“These people are here because of the injunction that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place, as far as I’m concerned,” said Adam Dyson, a self-described Land Protector and also out supporting the cause.
Dyson said he’s not surprised to see more people detained following Hunter, given the unanswered questions he sees and lack of response to concerns expressed in relation to the project.
NunatuKavut President Todd Russell said he does not agree with the detainments of NunatuKavut Community Council members at HMP, or generally within the prison system. He said there must be another way found to address the issues being raised.
Moved to St. John's
It remains unclear why James Learning, Marjorie Flowers and Eldred Davis are being detained at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) in St. John’s.
Provincial superintendant of prisons Owen Brophy told The Telegram he could not speak to any specific cases — including Flowers, Learning and Davis — due to privacy concerns.
Generally, he said, there are many things requiring consideration in a decision of where an individual will be imprisoned. They include overcrowding, appropriate security level, any medical conditions and any incompatibility between inmates.
“We try, if at all possible, to keep inmates in their area,” Brophy said when asked about home communities.
He said allowing inmates the ability to maintain contact with family and close friends is generally considered preferable to moving them away.
In reality, the options within the system right now are few and far between.
Any adult men ordered detained in Labrador, for example, might be assigned to the 54-unit Labrador Correctional Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, but all 54 spaces are currently occupied.
“We’re running at full capacity,” Brophy said when asked about the Labrador facility.
There are no cells in Labrador for adult women, in any event.
“We have to ship them to the island,” Brophy said.
Once on the island, women might go to the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville, except that’s also full.
The trio ended up at HMP in St. John’s, even if that’s also hard up for space.
Again, Brophy would not speak to the specific cases.
Justice minister Andrew Parsons was not available for an interview Monday, being in meetings in Deer Lake. The Telegram was told he would be unlikely to comment given it appeared questions would be either specific to cases ongoing before the courts or procedural, meaning the superintendent of prisons would be the best source.