POLITICS

First Nations rights not violated by 'truck going down the road,' lawyer says

11/15/2013 10:31 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:56 EST
FREDERICTON - SWN Resources, whose proposal to search for shale gas in New Brunswick has sparked protests, is not violating anyone's rights by conducting seismic testing, the company's lawyer told a judge Friday.

Matt Hayes appeared in the Court of Queen's Bench in Fredericton to oppose an application by the Elsipogtog First Nation for an injunction to stop the company from proceeding with shale gas exploration.

The application says the exploration of shale gas violates the rights of First Nations because they have not been adequately consulted, an argument Hayes rejected.

"I don't know that a First Nation right is being interfered with by a truck going down a road," Hayes told the court.

Hayes said that granting an injunction would cause SWN Resources irreparable harm in that it would amount to a loss of about $54,000 for each day that crews and trucks are not able to do their work.

The application also warns that there is a risk of the type of violent clash that erupted last month between police and protesters near Rexton if exploration is allowed to continue.

"These circumstances combine to create a very real danger that, as active seismic exploration is recommenced in the coming hours and days, outside radical elements, the Respondent SWN and the RCMP, other police and even military forces, all interact," says the application.

In an affidavit supporting the injunction application, Elsipogtog Chief Aaron Sock says he has been informed that members of his community and other First Nations will respond if SWN Resources continues with exploration in the presence of the RCMP.

Sock says in the document that could result in the company's equipment being vandalized and First Nations warriors will be present to defend Elsipogtog territory.

But a lawyer representing the attorney general of New Brunswick and the provincial minister of energy and mines, both also listed as respondents in the application, said the court should not be granting injunctions based on hearsay that something might happen.

"If the court starts granting injunctions on faceless mobs coming to the province, the rule of law won't be worth much," Richard Williams said.

T.J. Burke, the lawyer for the Elsipogtog First Nation, said the province has failed to properly consult First Nations on the shale gas issue, and the court needs to prevent future violent clashes.

"No one wants to see cars burned or individuals harmed," he told the court.

Judge Judy Clendenning has reserved her decision until Monday afternoon.

Outside the court, Sock said he hopes protests remain peaceful and urged the provincial government to find a solution to resolve the dispute over shale gas exploration.

Earlier in the day, Premier David Alward said the effort to proceed with shale gas exploration in Kent County is a "beachhead" for development of natural resources in the province.

Alward said those who oppose a shale gas industry are the same people who are against new mines and the proposed Energy East Pipeline project.

"We cannot allow the intimidation or the loudest voices to ultimately deter our province from our ability to grow our economy and to allow our citizens to build their lives here," Alward said.

SWN Resources trucks are conducting seismic testing for two more weeks before wrapping up their work for the winter, Hayes said.