A Mi’kmaw man from Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia denies he is blocking employees with Alton Natural Gas Storage Project Inc. from accessing company facilities along the Shubenacadie River near Stewiake, N.S.
A lawyer for Dale Poulette and another individual, Rachael Greenland-Smith were in a Halifax courtroom Tuesday asking a judge to dismiss the company’s request to grant a temporary injunction to have their ongoing occupation at the site moved so employees can access their operations.
Approximately 50 people attended the court hearing to show their support.
While there are a number of individuals staying at a straw bale house located at the site’s entrance, Poulette and Greenland-Smith are the only two individuals named in Alton’s court application.
“I think they’re blocking themselves,” Poulette said outside of the courtroom. “They got the key to the gate. We’re not preventing them from opening it.”
Poulette, 33, says employees have been able to access the project site.
“The straw bale house is not on their road or entrance site,” Poulette told reporters following the court hearing.
“The only thing that’s in their way that I assume would be the locked gate that they locked themselves and a piece of pipe that they left on their property which can be easily rolled out of the way,” he said.
Poulette has been camping out at the project site since the fall of 2016 to protest the company’s plans to release brine water into the Shubenacadie River. He says he is exercising his Aboriginal and treaty rights as a water protector by remaining at the riverbank.
Greenland-Smith is an environmental researcher who has been helping out and offering support to the group at the site.
Protest against Alton Gas project ongoing since 2014
Since 2014, local residents, including a group of Sipekne’katik band members from the nearby Mi’kmaw community of Indian Brook First Nation have been actively protesting the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project.
They’re against the company’s plans to store natural gas in underground salt caverns. Alton wants to create the caverns by flushing out the salt using tidal water from the Shubenacadie River. The brine water mixture would then be stored in a holding pond located along the riverbank before it is released back into the Shubenacadie River.
Opponents of the project are concerned the brine mixture may permanently harm the river’s ecosystem.
The group of water protectors built a small shack near the riverbank in the fall of 2016. They later constructed a sod cabin behind the entrance gate to the project site.
Lawyer for Alton Gas calls Poulette, Greenland-Smith “trespassers”
Robert Grant, the lawyer for Alton Natural Gas Storage Project Inc., told Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Gerald Moir during the court hearing that Poulette and Greenland-Smith are trespassers who are preventing company employees from entering the site.
The Alton Gas lawyer explained that due to the ongoing occupation, contractors have been unable to access the site to make repairs to its facilities following a power failure in January.
Grant told the court that Poulette, in particular, has aggressively confronted employees by yelling and swearing at them. He described Poulette’s behaviour as “erratic” and “unpredictable” and that he has made disparaging remarks to the company’s employees.
Grant also argued that while Poulette says he is exercising his Aboriginal and treaty rights, he “has no right to assert his treaty right” at the site because there is no evidence he is a member of the nearby Sipekne’katik band.
James Gunvaldsen-Klaassen, a lawyer who works with an organization called Ecojustice, represented both Poulette and Greenland-Smith in their defence against Alton’s injunction request.
He told the court that Poulette has a right to exercise his Aboriginal and treaty rights by camping at the Alton Natural Gas project site to protect the river from harm.
“He was asked to do so by his community and he is performing that duty as a water protector at the request of his community and doing his best to protect the water and the land in the area,” Gunvaldsen-Klaassen said following the court hearing.
Gunvaldsen-Klaassen also argued that while Aboriginal and treaty rights are collective rights, individual beneficiaries like Poulette can still exercise those treaty rights through activities such as hunting and fishing.
In response to Poulette’s behaviour towards company employees, Gunvaldsen-Klaassen told the court that “it’s not against the law to swear or act belligerent.”
Justice Moir has reserved his decision in the matter until Mar. 18.