On Monday the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested nine land protectors as a small group began the second day of their blockade of the Muskrat Falls hydro project.
Shortly after 5 a.m. around eight officers moved in on the blockade and enforced a Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador injunction granted to Nalcor Energy and handed down to the land protectors the night before. The injunction prohibited the protesters from trespassing on, and from blocking access to, the site.
One police officer told the land protectors they could cross the highway and stand in a “safe zone” to avoid arrest. About six or seven individuals moved, while the remaining stood their ground until police began detaining them.
Some laid on the ground, while others walked with the police. Among those arrested are Jacinda Beals, Marjorie Flowers, Tony Wolfrey, Charlotte Wolfrey, Peggy Blake and Eldred Davis.
During the arrests Billy Gauthier, a well-known Inuit artist who is on day four of a hunger strike until Nalcor and the government promise to fully clear the reservoir, shouted at police.
[WARNING: Videos contain strong language, police violence — may be triggering for some. Viewer discretion advised.]
Moments later 25-year-old Emily Ann Wolfrey of Rigolet was singled out and violently apprehended by the same police officer who told her and the other land protectors to stand in the “safe zone” on the other side of the highway.
From the safe zone Wolfrey shouted at that officer, whose name The Independent has not been able to confirm, “Are you tongueless?! Are you speechless?!”
The officer then pointed directly at Wolfrey and said, “You’re under arrest,” and quickly moved toward her as she stood in the safe zone. Two other officers assisted with the arrest, during which people were shouting at them. Wolfrey’s 12-year-old brother can be heard crying during the commotion. The siblings’ father Tony was one of those arrested moments earlier.
Following Emily Wolfrey’s arrest, Elder and NunatuKavut Councillor Jim Learning, who is fighting cancer, kneeled down on the highway in sorrow.
Learning was arrested at a Muskrat Falls protest in 2013 for breaking an injunction granted to Nalcor against him and seven others. He launched a five-day hunger strike while in jail before being released. The injunction was later thrown out in the courts.
Following the arrests land protectors travelled to Goose Bay where about 25 occupied Environment Minister Perry Trimper’s constituency office.
In St. John’s about 50 people rallied outside Confederation Building, where they were greeted by St. John’s Centre MHA Gerry Rogers, who invited nine of the protesters, including three Labradorians, into the NDP’s office. Land protectors Denise Cole and Jodi Greenleaves said Rogers and NDP leader Earle McCurdy listened to their concerns.
McCurdy issued a statement two weeks ago responding to Trimper’s claim that the province cannot fully clear the reservoir due to “contractual and legal obligations,” and because imminent flooding is necessary to “protect the integrity of the structure.”
“These contradictory statements continue the blanket of secrecy that has covered the Muskrat Falls project since its conception,” McCurdy said. “The people of the province who will pay the bill, especially the people downstream from the reservoir whose health is being compromised, are entitled to a full, detailed explanation of all considerations.”
Nalcor released a public safety advisory earlier this month stating the first phase of flooding would begin on or after Oct. 15.
The current protests stem from growing anxiety and anger in Labrador communities that flooding could begin before concerns around methylmercury are adequately and transparently addressed. A recent peer-reviewed study led by researchers at Harvard University projected methylmercury levels would increase and push members of Indigenous communities downstream above safe levels of exposure.
Innu, Inuit and others who harvest fish, seals and other wild food from the 3,000-square-kilometre estuary have expressed great concern over losing a traditional cultural practice should the wildlife in Lake Melville become inedible.
Meanwhile, anxiety is also high in communities downstream from the dam over concerns around the integrity of the north side of the dam, which will be anchored into an area comprised primarily of sand and clay.
Residents of Happy Valley and Mud Lake have criticized Nalcor’s lack of transparency when it comes to sharing information about the North Spur, including it’s precise plan for stabilizing it and guaranteeing the safety of those living downstream in the flood zone.
Following the Labradorians’ meeting in the NDP office in St. John’s nine protesters occupied Confederation Building, staging a peaceful sit-in in the lobby.
“We want to show solidarity with the movement that [says] Muskrat Falls needs to stop, and that Nalcor and the government need to acknowledge and listen to the voices of the people who say this project is wrong,” Cole told The Independent by phone Monday, adding those in St. John’s are also “standing in solidarity with Billy Gauthier and his hunger strike, until his demands are met and this project is stopped.”
In Goose Bay NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) President Todd Russell held a press conference announcing the NCC was throwing its support behind the ongoing resistance, vowing direct action at the entrances to the Muskrat Falls construction site, and on the river above and below the dam.
Russell also said the NCC endorses the Town of Cartwright’s recent decision to block a shipment of transformers headed for the Muskrat Falls site, which is slated to come through the town’s port later this month.
“We stand with them 100 percent,” adding attempts to land equipment headed for Muskrat Falls in any of NunatuKavut’s port communities will be met with direct action.
“Try Mary’s Harbour, we will be there. Try St. Lewis, we will be there. Try the Straits, we will be there. Try Happy Valley-Goose Bay, we will be there. Try any of our communities and we will be there,” he said, vowing a “long-term campaign.”
Late Monday morning at least two Nunatsiavut ministers, Sean Lyall and Darrly Shiwak, travelled to the Muskrat Falls main entrance where the protectors were arrested, however The Independent was unable to reach them by the time of publication.
On Oct. 4 Labrador MP Yvonne Jones told The Independent she had alerted the Prime Minister of Labradorians’ concerns around methylmercury and the North Spur, and that she had “made the appropriate recommendations” as to how the federal government should respond to the province’s request for a second loan guarantee to complete the project, which is two years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget.
But Jones said she would “prefer not to make those recommendations public,” including whether or not she recommended Canada place a condition on the loan that the reservoir be fully cleared.
She did tell a small group of constituents gathered in her office immediately prior to the interview, however, that it’s “unlikely” the loan guarantee will be reviewed by the federal government “in the context of environmental disagreement right now,” and that if the province is granted the loan it will be up to the provincial government to determine whether they will use some of the money to fully clear the reservoir of vegetation and topsoil.
The Independent requested comment from Premier Dwight Ball on the arrests at Muskrat Falls, the growing movement in opposition to the project, and whether the province and Nalcor will commit to fully clearing the reservoir. A response was not received by the time of publication, however a spokesperson for the premier said Ball and Trimper will soon be issuing a joint statement.
In Ottawa, which has already seen one Muskrat Falls protest on Parliament Hill in recent weeks, former Nunatsiavut Minister of Lands and Natural Resources Zippora Nochasak is rallying Labrador Inuit to organize another demonstration on the Hill.
We are in control, and we are the bosses. We decide. — Zippora Nochasak
“This is not acceptable,” she said. “Our country food, that’s our food. That’s the most important thing. Our land, our animals, our fish, and our health. They are the most important.
“This is serious stuff, and we’re not going to repeat history again,” she continued. “And we’re not just going to sit down and let it happen. We are in control, and we are the bosses. We decide.”
The path to Muskrat Falls was cleared when Canada negotiated an Agreement In Principle for a comprehensive land claims agreement with the Innu Nation.
Last summer Innu Nation Grand Chief Anastasia Qupee united with Russell and Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe for a rally calling on the province and Nalcor to fully clear the reservoir. However, Qupee has been silent ever since and has not responded to multiple interview requests from The Independent.
Last week Lampe released a statement saying that if Muskrat Falls “proceeds without changes, there will never be true reconciliation in this country.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said seven people were arrested. The Independent later confirmed with the RCMP that “nine individuals, six women and three men, have been arrested and charged with one count each of disobeying a court order.” The Independent also previously reported MHA Gerry Rogers invited two Labradorians from the rally into the NDP’s office. According to Denise Cole, nine people were in fact invited in, including three Labradorians. The article also reported that Emily Wolfrey is 21 years old; she is in fact 25.