All eyes were on Montreal this morning, as Mayor Denis Coderre was set to testify first at this week’s hotly contested National Energy Board hearings for TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline.
Instead, protesters disrupted the hearings with calls for the review process to be suspended amid allegations of conflict. After a violent police intervention, today’s hearings were cancelled. They are expected to resume tomorrow.
It was shortly before 9 a.m. EDT that all hell broke loose. Media and cameras were arrayed along a side wall, and Mayor Coderre sat in the first row reviewing his notes, when a man came rushing up the side aisle chanting anti-NEB slogans focusing on the allegations of conflict levelled at two of the board’s three commissioners.
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The protester made a beeline for the front of the room, and was intercepted by security staff as he approached the vacant table reserved for the three commissioners. Security wrestled with him for a moment, even putting him in a chokehold, but soon gave up as he was joined by another five or six protesters at the front of the room.
They unfurled a banner, which quoted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying, “Only communities can grant permission,” and joined in the chanting. Soon, around half the audience was standing and applauding the protesters, and the room descended into bedlam as chants echoed off the walls and media jockeyed to get shots of the protesters.
Most of those who did not join in or support the protest were dressed in suits and business attire, while the protesters obviously had the sympathy of the more plainly dressed people in attendance.
The protesters then announced that they planned to hold control of the room and would not allow hearings to proceed. Coderre soon left, drawing most media with him to a scrum in the foyer outside the hearing room.
Outside the hearing room, the mayor addressed a scrum of reporters, describing the hearings as a “masquerade” and reiterating his statements on Friday that the process lacked credibility and should be suspended. The mayor, no fan of protesters, nevertheless implied that the outcome was predictable when faced with a process that has lost credibility.
“It’s a matter of having answers. This is not a time to take chances, and there are too many problems that we are witnessing to accept that project. We are saying that the project that they [are] presenting is wrong, is bad, and we don’t have the answers.
Imagine what happened with the spills in Prince Albert, and they were 69,000 people. There’s four million people here. So can we afford to take a chance? Zero tolerance is important for us.”
After most media had followed Coderre out of the room, a group of around eight police officers entered and came up one of the side aisles, as more police entered the room behind them. As they advanced, the protesters started to leave, using the other side aisle to head to the door at the back of the room.
Inexplicably, the police officers decided to intervene physically with protesters who were already leaving, and this journalist was a few feet away as the man who had initiated the protest was grabbed and roughly thrown to the ground. Pain compliance tactics, consisting of twisting one arm behind the back to the point of agony, were used on several protesters who were not resisting. One female protester was crying out in pain as she was led from the room.
Another protester was slammed against a wall while his arms were restrained behind his back, and the police officers present ignored requests from a man who appeared to be in charge of the venue (either NEB or conference centre staff) to stop treating protesters so violently. A police officer responded to his request by explaining that force was justified because the protester in question was resisting.
Neither of Ricochet’s two journalists saw any of the protesters resisting, with the possible exception of the first protester, who tried to pull away as he was being forced to the ground.
The woman whose arm was wrenched behind her back to the point of screaming was held that way for over a minute as she was violently removed. At no point did she offer resistance, and she begged to be let go, explaining that she was not resisting.
The NEB soon announced that the day’s hearings had been cancelled and would resume tomorrow. Presumably the schedule will be adjusted to allow the panel to hear from today’s scheduled intervenors, which, aside from Coderre, included several mayors and representatives of Mohawk communities.