Contempt case of Indigenous women arrested at Alton Gas site delayed until April

By Michael Tutton


HALIFAX – A contempt of court hearing for three Indigenous women
arrested at a construction site north of Halifax has been
rescheduled for late April in the latest of a series of delays.

The women’s lawyer, Michael McDonald, is arguing before Nova
Scotia Supreme Court that the women had the right to be on Alton
Natural Gas property along the Shubenacadie River.

The three defendants, Darlene Gilbert, Madonna Bernard and Paula
Isaac, were taken into custody in April after they allegedly broke
an injunction to stay off the work site.

Alton Gas plans to use water from the 73-kilometre tidal river to
create large underground storage caverns, but the three women say
they fear the waterway cutting through the centre of the province
will be polluted from the briny discharges.

Justice Timothy Gabriel said in court that arguments McDonald
made this summer were procedurally incorrect and asked him to refile
his position by February.

The parties also said in court they will resume the contempt
hearing on April 27 and 28.

The judge was critical of documents filed by McDonald in
September, saying, “I’m looking at it, and I’m saying this isn’t
the way documents are supposed to be when they’re in the court.”

Gabriel said it wasn’t clear in McDonald’s submissions which
affidavits were responding to Alton Gas’s contempt motion and which
were part of separate constitutional arguments over aboriginal

“You’re delaying getting (to court) by not putting the documents
in the proper form,” the judge said.

McDonald says he will make a case against the injunction based on
a 1752 treaty with the Crown and an aboriginal title claim for the
lands currently being used by Alton Gas.

The lawyer has said the case is a second opportunity to get a
ruling on aboriginal title after a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada
decision on aboriginal logging rights in Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick. In that case, the court dismissed the claims of
aboriginal title.

Gilbert, Bernard and Isaac were arrested April 10. Affidavits
filed by police two days later alleged the women breached conditions
set out in the injunction limiting protesters to a designated area.

An officer alleged each of the women was “found to be occupying
an area on the property which was outside that designated area.” He
said they were given numerous opportunities to comply with the
injunction in order to avoid arrest, but they refused.

The arrests were carried out while police erected roadblocks in
the area to prevent the public from entering. They told reporters at
the time the step was taken to ensure public safety.

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