Opponents of shale gas development including members of the Elsipogtog First Nation beat drums and sang in celebration on Monday after a New Brunswick judge lifted an injunction that ordered them to end their blockade outside a compound owned by SWN Resources Canada.
Suzanne Patles, one of those named in the injunction, said she believes that the ruling from the Court of Queen's Bench sends a direct message to the energy company to stop its exploration activities and leave the province.
"They need to go the frack home and they need to realize that they are not above any law," she said outside the courthouse in Moncton. "All the people of New Brunswick are free right now. They don't have to be held under that corporate greed."
In his decision, Judge George Rideout said the injunction was no longer required since equipment and vehicles owned by SWN Resources have been removed from the compound near Rexton and the protesters are no longer blocking the road.
Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief of Elsipogtog, said the community is ready to demonstrate wherever there is any shale gas exploration, but she hopes such activities won't proceed. "I hope that the government can sit down with their people and discuss this rationally," she said.
SWN Resources did not return a message seeking comment.
The RCMP enforced the injunction last Thursday during a violent clash that saw the seizure of weapons including improvised explosive devices and firearms, six police vehicles set on fire and 40 people arrested for offences including threats, intimidation and mischief.
The Mounties said they fired non-lethal beanbag type bullets and used pepper spray to defuse the situation after Molotov cocktails were tossed at them.
The chief of Elsipogtog criticized the Mounties for their actions and vowed to keep up the fight against shale gas exploration in the province. "What the RCMP put our people through was almost horrendous, to say the least," Aaron Sock told a news conference in Elsipogtog, about 90 kilometres north of Moncton.
Sock, who was among those arrested, said every effort will be made to keep their ongoing opposition peaceful.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs travelled to New Brunswick to show his support for Elsipogtog and said the RCMP's actions were heavy-handed. "I think every Canadian should be concerned when we look at the use of coercive state power against indigenous people," he said.
During the news conference, Elsipogtog member Amy Sock lifted her arms to show bruises on her biceps that she says she received when she was arrested at the protest site.
Assistant commissioner Roger Brown, the RCMP's commanding officer in the province, has defended the police response, saying officers acted because they grew concerned that public safety was at risk.
RCMP Constable Julie Rogers-Marsh said on Monday that the force is pleased with efforts from all sides to restore peace at the protest site. "Anyone who wants to demonstrate can do so in a peaceful and lawful manner," she said. "Criminal behaviour of some individuals in recent days is not representative of the greater First Nations community."
Aaron Sock said no decisions have been made on how Elsipogtog will proceed, but he expects a meeting later this week with Premier David Alward, whose government believes shale gas exploration can be done while protecting the environment and encouraging economic growth.
A spokesman for the premier's office said he expects a meeting to be held this week, but no arrangements have been made yet.
On Monday, the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs issued a statement, calling for the provincial government to suspend the permits granted to SWN Resources so that a cooling period can take hold.
"There has to be recognition on behalf of the government that the consultation process has failed," Chief George Ginnish said. "The assembly has been telling the government and SWN for years that the phased approach to consultation is incompatible with the aboriginal perspective, and that it was not working."
A small group of people remains at the protest site on Route 134. There are tents and many signs opposing shale gas exploration and the presence of SWN Resources in the province.
The RCMP blocked Route 134 three weeks ago after protesters began spilling onto the road. Protesters then cut down trees and placed them across another part of the road, blocking the entrance to the company's equipment compound.
The company has said it is only in the early stages of exploration in New Brunswick.