Lubicon Lake Nation protesters going into their fourth week of blocking access to a fracking site on their traditional territory were ordered to take down their roadblock early Monday evening by a Queen’s Bench court judge in Calgary.
Despite requests by oil company PennWest Petroleum Ltd. for only a seven-day injunction, the judge granted an immediate six-month injunction on the road block in accordance with the provincial Public Lands Act.
Representatives of the Lubicon Nation are upset by the ruling and planning to appeal, claiming the court was “hostile” and refused to hear Lubicon evidence.
According to the Lubicons’ legal counsel, going beyond the requested seven-day injunction requires two days’ notice under the Public Lands Act, which was not given.
“Two business days were not provided to properly consider the case,” said Cynthia Tomlinson, the nation’s lands and negotiations advisor. “Our legal counsel were only informed Thursday evening that this case was coming forward on Friday morning and reheard on Monday.”
Tomlinson said the order “is not the end of this fight, on the land or in the courts.” The nation is now calling on the international community to take notice of their struggle.
The group led by Lubicon Lake Nation Chief Bernard Ominayak first began peacefully occupying a road leading to a site near Haig and Sawn Lakes in northwestern Alberta on Nov. 26 after PennWest began moving fracking equipment and personnel in without notice, according to the First Nation.
Ominayak said protesters are concerned with the “irreparable” damage oil and gas development has had on Lubicon lands and the abilities of members to exercise their inherent rights, without financial benefit to the people.
In a statement of claim filed Dec. 1, Ominayak argued that the Lubicon Nation never entered into treaty with Canada and that leases issued to Penn West are thus null and void.
“This is yet another example of what the United Nations has already ruled in the Lubicon case. We as people do not have effective redress in the Canadian legal and regulatory system and it is actively being used as a tool to exterminate us in favor of natural resource development” Ominayak said following the hearing result.
The First Nation had announced plans to block another access road on the First Nation’s territory the week previous after hearing PennWest was moving equipment into another lease site 2 km south of the existing blockade.
With a perceived lack of movement by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) on the issue, PennWest took matters into its own hands last Friday in a Calgary court, demanding an injunction against the blockade.
While that hearing was adjourned until Monday, Justice Tilleman ordered that the protesters could not erect any more blockades in the Sawn Lake area over the weekend.
AER staff were at the blockade site last Thursday, informing the protesters of actions that could be taken under provincial legislation.
“AER staff made the protesters aware of the provisions in the Public Lands Act that prohibits any person from blocking access to Crown land, and the remedies available to the agency administering the Act, which is the AER,” AER spokesperson Bob Curran wrote in an email to The Journal.
Company negotiating with one chief of split First Nation
PennWest is currently in discussions with the Lubicon’s other government, headed by Chief Billy Joe Laboucan – a council criticized by Ominayak’s group as being pro-industry and put in place by the federal government.
The First Nation formally split in the mid-’90s, with Laboucan’s band looking to secure a land claim settlement with the federal government to boost living conditions in the community of Little Buffalo. That band was formally recognized by the provincial and federal governments following an election in February 2013.
Though PennWest met with Ominayak’s government – elected separately in May of this year – in late November, the company refused to halt production, sparking the first roadblock. There have been no meetings since.
Greg Moffatt, manager of stakeholder relations with PennWest, said the company has followed all the rules in obtaining access to the blocked site, where it had planned to build a road and well pad for a drilling operation.
“We have the authorization of the recognized leadership for the work to be conducted. We followed all of the applicable regulations and requirements established by the provincial government to get approval for the work,” he said, adding that the company also dialogued with the Lubicon Lake Nation about its work plans over the course of the year until the blockade began.
Prior to this year’s elections in the Lubicon community, where both Ominayak and Laboucan won in separate elections, Moffatt said Penn West had drilled and completed over 60 wells without environmental incident and with the participation of the Lubicon Nation, whose approved contractors and members were employed in the operations.
“The dispute, from our perspective, is really about leadership in the community and an unresolved land claim,” Moffatt said.
Blockade gets nationwide support
Prior to Monday’s decision, Lubicon communications coordinator Garrett Tomlinson said those engaged in the 24/7 blockade were working in shifts to get a break from the cold and see their families, and were receiving caravans of supplies from outside the community, which allowed them to set up a full-fledged camp complete with tents, a large canvas shelter and a school bus, as opposed to a line of trucks.
A social media campaign was asking for everything from winter clothing to fuel, food and water.
“It’s turned into quite the traffic jam. Even if all the people left, there’d be some serious deconstruction for the oil company to go in and try to take everything out,” Tomlinson said.
Security from PennWest have been parking their vehicles at the blockade from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in a silent face off with protesters holding the road in check round the clock.
“There haven’t been any confrontations. Their security personnel come and sit at one end of the road and our guys obviously aren’t moving, and that’s pretty well where they leave it,” Tomlinson said, adding that there have not been any more incidents of the blockade being “run at” by Penn West equipment, as was recorded on video by Lubicon protesters in the first days of the blockade.
Members of the Peace River RCMP detachment have made frequent visits to the road block site over the last several weeks, taking photos and licence plate numbers.
According to Tomlinson, the Lubicon have been at the receiving end of numerous messages of support from across the country, including from the Council of Canadians, Defenders of the Land and the Six Nations Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. He said the nation is in the process of touching base with old alliances from the 1980s, when blockades against oil and gas development were prominent on Lubicon territory.