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Friday, October 18, 2013

Hundreds of fracking protesters take to Halifax streets

Spirited crowd march in support of Elsipogtog First Nation.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 5:01 PM

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Yesterday, some 40 anti-fracking protesters, mostly from the Elsipogtog First Nation, were arrested in New Brunswick. The protesters had been blocking a highway in order to prevent seismic testing in preparation for shale gas extraction through fracking. Their supporters say the RCMP's enforcement of an injunction against the blockade was heavy-handed, while the RCMP claim the protesters were armed with molotov cocktails and other weapons. Five RCMP vehicles were destroyed in the conflict.

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Today, a series of protests in support of the Elsipogtog protesters have occurred across Canada, including in Halifax. Protesters began to gather along the street in front of the Irving station on Robie Street near Charles Street. They rallied for about 20 minutes, waving signs, chanting and singing, and were greeted by mostly supportive people passing by, who honked horns and gave thumbs-up. Police were present, but kept at a distance. At its height, the protesters numbered about 250.

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The protesters then moved to in front of the church on Charles Street, where speakers used the steps as a stage. The crowd backed onto Robie Street to listen. Very briefly, for 20 seconds, the street was completely blocked, but a police officer asked the crowd to let a south-bound bus pass, and the crowd obliged. It took another minute or two before the crowd figured out on their own how to keep a north-bound open to traffic. Speakers, mostly native, spoke of solidarity with the Elsipogtog protesters. There was a poem, and native elder Billy Lewis told the crowd that "the world has to see us."
Billy Lewis addresses the crowd.
  • Billy Lewis addresses the crowd.

The crowd then went on a short march, down the southbound lanes of Robie Street, through the intersection with Cunard Street, and then to the Willow Tree intersection. There, they held up all traffic for about five minutes. Then they moved onto the Common. Along the way, I heard one protester thanking the drivers for their patience. Most of the drivers either didn't react at all or honked horns in support. One or two expressed anger. "I have to pick up my child at day care," said one.

But given the gravity of the situation in Elsipogtog, and given the charged political debate over fracking, there has to be some toleration for reasonable disruptive protests. And as disruptions go, today's was minor, certainly less than that caused by a fender bender on one of the bridges. The cops at the scene acted reasonably, and with restraint. Democracy wins.

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