Up all night with a license to kill – October 17th raid planned for maximum confrontation. At #Warriorscourt, Four officers testify to a gun being pointed – but was this all necessary? An analysis. by Miles Howe, April 4, 2014, Halifax Media Coop
Troops in a semi-circle sweep engaged sleeping campers on the morning of the 17th. ERT members, awake in some cases for over 30 hours, had lethal oversight.[Photo: Miles Howe]
Moncton, New Brunswick – The fourth day of the trial of Germaine ‘Junior’ Breau and Aaron Francis focused on the testimony of four RCMP officers who were engaged in sweeping through the field in which the main tent encampment of the anti-shale gas protest was located. While earlier testimonies throughout the week have come from officers with a backside view of Breau – who is standing trial for five counts of pointing a firearm – the officers who took the stand today all testified that they were in the line of fire, and actually had the barrel of the rifle pointed at them.
While the spectrum of the matter before presiding Judge Jackson will undoubtedly be limited – in this instance – to the matter of whether Breau is guilty of pointing the firearm, there is a certain insight to be gleaned by analyzing the events that precipitated the alleged pointing of the firearm and the tactics utilized by the RCMP in response to the alleged events. The lead-up – Was the intent to liberate SWN’s equipment? Or to crush the resistance?
The injunction providing the RCMP with the justification to effectuate the October 17th raid was worded so that the main objective was to liberate SWN’s seismic testing equipment from a compound where it had been stationed for the previous 19 days.
Arresting, or engaging the individuals residing at the anti-shale gas encampment in a field adjacent to the compound, would have been at the discretion of whoever devised the tactical operation.
In this case, Tactical Troop Site Commander Sergeant Rick Bernard would have had a key role to play in the development and initialization of the October 17th raid.
Bernard, in his testimony, is certainly confused as to the illegality of the encampment adjacent to the compound.
On the one hand, he noted in his testimony that: “camping [in the field] was not an unlawful act.”
On the other hand, he noted that whoever was residing at the anti-shale gas encampment was committing an arrestable act.
“Absolutely they are,” testified Bernard. “They are part of an unlawful protest.”
According to Bernard, the illegal participation thus extends to every single act that anyone at the anti-shale gas encampment would have engaged in. Whether they were protesting, or sleeping in their tents – as was the case on the morning of October 17th – when the RCMP first began sweeping in a semi-circle sweep through the field in which they were camped.
The end goal of the raid, in terms of the police positioning, was for the RCMP to gain control of both sides of highway 134, in order that SWN’s equipment might leave the compound unchallenged.
By the time of the beginning of the semi-circle pinch of the encampment, the RCMP had already gained control of the far side of highway 134.
They already had control of the main gate by which the equipment could freely leave.
They already had control of the compound itself and an ATV trail leading to highway 134, due to dubious ‘negotiations’ the evening before where the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society (MWS) and the RCMP had agreed that police officers should replace Irving-owned private security firm Industrial Security Limited (ISL) guards, after ISL guards had begun to provoke protestors on October 15th and 16th.
Simply put, with unencumbered access to highway 134 from the far side and control of the main exit gate, there was absolutely nothing to stop the RCMP from simply crossing the two lane highway and seizing control of the near side.
Such a manoeuvre would have given those camping in the field the luxury of choosing to engage the RCMP or not, rather than getting caught up in a pre-dawn encirclement with the only option of exit to run the gauntlet of RCMP along highway 134; RCMP who only the evening before had negotiated and had passed tobacco to members of the MWS as a sign of good faith.
And that morning were in effect betraying them.
Instead, Tactical Commander Bernard and his cohorts chose the method of most potential violence, even though he himself testified that he had no credible sources of information to suggest the encampment was armed.
The timing. Less about volatility, more about injunction challenge.
While the dominant police narrative has focused on the increasingly volatile situation at the encampment on October 15th and 16th, we know this to be false.
If anything, the volatility was due to pre-planned and provocative acts undertaken by members of Industrial Security Limited, who, counter to negotiated codes of conduct, began to exit the SWN compound and visit the anti-shale gas ‘sacred fire’ while armed.
This resulted in a series of negotiations between the MWS and the RCMP, where it was decided that police officers – ostensibly more professionally trained than ISL guards – would replace ISL guards on the evening of the 16th.
Likely ISL was included on the strategic planning of the October 17th raid, which we have learned was ‘activated’ as early as the morning of October 15th. Having armed RCMP staff within the compound – and in control of an adjacent ATV trail – on the morning of the 17th would have been a key asset to the RCMP’s tactical planning.
Thus creating a scenario where ISL presence became untenable, to be replaced by a kindly force of RCMP within the compound.
It is also key to note that a legal challenge to the very injunction that allowed for the RCMP’s October 17th raid was scheduled for the very next day.
By October 21st, the injunction had successfully been overturned in a Moncton courthouse.
But by then the damage had been done.
The protest had been temporarily smashed.
Key members of the MWS had been arrested during the semi-circle sweep.
And SWN’s equipment had been liberated, thus allowing the provincial government’s aim of hydraulically fracturing significant portions of New Brunswick to continue.
Lack of communication between the lethal overseers and Tactical troops.
During the October 17th raid, we have learned that a member of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) had Germaine Breau trained in the sights of his M-16 assault rifle for the duration of the time he was allegedly handling his rifle. Earlier in the week this individual testified that he came very close several times to shooting Breau, even going so far as to begin squeezing the trigger of his M-16 when Breau began to shoulder his rifle.
This Constable Frenette, with lethal overwatch of the situation (meaning basically the decision to kill was his to make), was stationed behind Breau, under the cover of a wood pile on the far side of highway 134.
What was not being communicated between Frenette and officers pinching off the individuals still in the encampment (myself included), was that Breau’s back was trained in Frenette’s sights.
What was not being communicated to Frenette was that Breau was not allegedly aiming his rifle at random individuals in the field in front of him.
Rather, as Corporal Lacroix, pivot and section leader of eight men in ‘C division’ from Quebec, testified today, Breau allegedly aimed his gun at him twice – each time in relation to Lacroix’s attempt to arrest Peter ‘Seven’ Bernard, the MWS war chief.
Indeed, Lacroix testified that he first attempted to arrest Bernard on his own. This attempt, in coming out of the field and approaching Bernard along Hannay Road, resulting in the first alleged gun pointing.
Lacroix then retreated into the field, but not long afterwards was instructed by a superior officer via radio communication to try to arrest Bernard again. This despite the fact that Breau and the alleged rifle cover he provided to Bernard had not changed his position. And all the while Breau was in Frenette’s sights.
On his second attempt, Lacroix brought a member of his section, a Sergeant Bilodeaux, with him.
Again, Breau allegedly pointed his rifle at Lacroix. And this time, according to testimony heard today, three other members of Lacroix’s section felt that Breau allegedly pointed his rifle at them. Even though Bilodeaux was the only officer to accompany Lacroix in the attempt to once again arrest Bernard.
Up all night with a licence to kill.
Numerous members of the ERT have testified that they were activated on the morning of October 15th, and had not slept prior to the raid of October 17th. By conservative estimates, that’s at least 30 hours without sleep.
ERT members had lethal oversight of the raid.
In effect this meant that once the potential of grievous bodily harm became in their minds a reality – with the tossing of Molotov cocktails and the handling of a rifle – the raid became their mandate, as did the decision to kill.
The timing of Lacroix’s attempted arrest of Bernard.
After trying twice to arrest Bernard – and twice being allegedly being rebuffed by Breau pointing a rifle at him and his men – Lacroix retreated into the field.
At some point after this, it became apparent to the RCMP that those who remained at the encampment had not been informed, or served, with the injunction.
This was apparently of enough importance to the tactical bosses of raid that the injunction was later read several times over the loud hailer of a police vehicle stationed at the far end of highway 134.
Indeed, it was Tactical Commander Bernard who later in the morning personally served Seven Bernard the injunction by throwing it on his shoulder.
This is important because Lacroix’s attempted arrest of Bernard – the arrest which precipitated the alleged gun pointing – may well have been without cause. On police video, at the time of the attempted arrest Bernard was simply wandering along Hannay road. He was not doing anything arrestable, other than simply being, which in the mind of Tactical Commander Bernard made him part of an illegal protest; that is, provided he had been duly served with the binding injunction.
Which he apparently had not.
Lack of communication. Francophone officers at key engagement positions.
Today’s day in court highlighted the testimony of four RCMP members of ‘C division’ from Quebec. Of them, only pivot and section leader Corporal Lacroix was able to testify or understand questioning without a French translator.
These four men were the first individuals to engage members of the MWS as they attempted to sweep the field in which they were camped. Police video shows them stationed closest to Hannay road, at the head of the sweep manoeuvre.
Police video also shows the tension of the situation escalating and deescalating over the course of the raid. The majority of the calmer segments of the video are of members of Lacroix’s section speaking to an Acadian individual, the only French speaking person at the encampment, and arguably the only person that the majority of officers tasked with engaging the MWS could even understand.
All this creates a situation of arguably unecessary engagement; a situation poorly organized, that is, if the desired outcome was simply for a peaceful liberation of SWN’s equipment from the compound.
That the raid itself was organized for conflict can potentially be summed up with the voice of Tactical Commander Bernard as heard on the police video.
At a heated moment of the rifle standoff, with an M-16 trained on Breau’s back and Frenette’s finger on the trigger, Bernard’s voice crackles through the cameraman’s radio. “Is it time for a little more convincing and start moving in?” asks Bernard. [Emphasis added]
“I was never able to see Germaine Breau point the rifle at any officers.” Second full day of police testimony does not confirm a pointing gun by Miles Howe, April 3, 2014, Halifax Media Coop
So far we have heard two days of testimony from police officers in the ditch adjacent to highway 134. From their vantage point, they would have been looking at Germaine Breau’s backside. None have testified he pointed a gun. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Moncton, New Brunswick – Day three of the trial of Germaine ‘Junior’ Breau and Aaron Francis continued today. The main matter before the court is whether Breau is guilty of five counts of pointing a firearm and whether Francis is guilty of four Molotov cocktail-related charges stemming from the RCMP raid of the anti-shale gas encampment along highway 134 that took place on October 17th.
This morning, the Crown continued to call forward ‘eye-witnesses’ in an attempt to pinpoint a moment where they saw either Breau point a firearm or Francis throw a Molotov cocktail.
The first witness to take the stand was Sergeant Marc Potvin, present during the pre-dawn raid. Potvin, in charge of the left flank of J division troops which were stationed along highway 134, saw “two people running into the woods” out of the “corner of [his] eye.”
These two people – bear in mind that this is the first police testimony to mention that two people ran into the woods where Molotov cocktails were allegedly being kept at the ready – could not be identified by Potvin.
It is important to note that yesterday, two RCMP officers testified that only one individual ran into the woods just prior to the Molotov cocktails being thrown.
Potvin then testified that from his position he “got a good view” of someone handling a gun beside a van, stationed along Hannay road, but that the gun was “pointed mostly towards the ground.” Potvin did not identify the two people he said were handling the gun, nor did he testify that at any point he saw the gun being aimed or pointed.
Again, it is important to note that Potvin’s position in the ditch along highway 134 would have been facing the backside of whoever was handling the gun.
The next Crown witness was Yann Audoux, a team leader with the Emergency Response Team (ERT). In his testimony, Audoux noted that he saw two individuals handling the gun and that he could positively identify the gun handlers as Breau and Francis. Audoux also testified that when he arrested Breau, ammunition fell out of the pocket of the ‘hoodie’ he was wearing.
It is important to note, however, that Audoux made no mention of either Breau or Francis pointing the gun during his testimony.
In his cross-examination, Audoux’s testimony began to fall apart.
Firstly, defence lawyer Menard noted that Audoux’s ERT team had been awake and “activated’ since the morning of October 15th. This means that by conservative accounts he and other members of his ERT – most of whom were armed with 9 millimetre pistols and M-16s – had been awake for over 30 hours.
The inference, of course, is that powers of observation and ability to recall memories might be significantly decreased after staying aware for a full day and night.
In defence lawyer Menard’s cross-examination, Audoux’s faculty of memory was brought into serious question. Audoux noted that for the duration of the “two to two and a half hour standoff” that someone was always handling the gun in question beside cover of a mini-van.
This is in contradiction to other RCMP testimony and is in fact false. RCMP video shows the initial standoff, with a gun being handled, lasts only for a portion of the total raid.
Secondly, even though nobody was handling the gun for the duration of the stand-off, whoever wasn’t handling the gun certainly could not have been Breau and Francis. RCMP testimony and video evidence show both Breau and Francis wandering around Hannay road, engaging RCMP officers in banter, as well as going in and out of the trailer area in the adjacent field.
Audoux also noted that he had no evidence to give as related to the throwing of the Molotov cocktails.
Next to the stand was Constable Eric Jean, the member of the ERT team who fired less-lethal rounds at the Molotov cocktail thrower on the morning of the 17th. Jean noted that it was still dark at the time that he visually saw the thrower and only looked at the individual for a period of “a couple of seconds” before firing his weapon. The individual then ran into the woods.
Jean described the individual as wearing camouflage clothing and a camouflage mask. This is in contradiction to every other RCMP testimony to this point, which identify the thrower as wearing a black balaclava.
In his original notes, Jean says that the thrower was “10 meters in the forest line.”
“He had dark, tanned skin,” said Jean. “I cannot say I can identify him.”
Jean, also a member of the ERT with lethal oversight, noted that he had slept for “two to two and a half hours” since being ‘activated’ on October 15th. This suggests that he would have been awake in excess of 24 hours before sleeping a brief period and then engaging in the October 17th raid.
Next to the stand was Constable Steve Shannon, a member of the Tactical Troop. Shannon remained certain throughout his testimony that the person throwing the Molotov cocktails was indeed Aaron Francis and that he had only seen one person handling the rifle, and that person was Germaine Breau.
Menard’s cross-examination again focused on the ever-increasing level of detail that Shannon brought to his written reports outlining his observations of the events of October 17th.
Shannon’s initial handwritten notes, made on the 17th, did not contain any description of the individual he felt was throwing the Molotovs, aside from noting it was an individual wearing camouflage clothing. Shannon’s 14 page series of notes he wrote down that evening also did not contain any more of a description of the Molotov thrower.
The notes did, however, describe the gun handler as ‘Brun’, who he interpreted as being Germaine Breau.
“My notes aren’t my exact memory,” said Shannon in response to Menard’s questioning of his initial lack of detail. “They are meant to prompt my memory so that I can testify in court.”
Menard’s continued to bring Shannon’s memory into doubt by referencing the meetings, prompts and inter-departmental emails concerning Breau, Francis and a third individual, William Clair. The suggestion was that it was these interactions that created the possibility of a ‘shared group’ memory of the events, and that Shannon’s supplementary report, written over a month later for investigating officer Blakely, was more a result of this than of Shannon’s actual memories.
“I’m not a memory specialist,” responded Shannon.
Next up on the stand was Al Comeaux of the Emergency Response Team. Comeaux, through previous interactions with other RCMP departments, was aware of Germaine Breau prior to the October 17th raid. Comeaux, in his testimony, was certain that he saw Breau – and only Breau – with the firearm. RCMP officers in similar positioning to Comeaux, which is to say in a ditch adjacent to highway 134, have earlier testified that there were at least two individuals, and sometimes three, who were handling the rifle.
In any case, Comeaux’s testimony did not confirm that Breau pointed the rifle, which is the central issue of his trial. In fact, Comeaux testified that although he was keeping his attention focused on Breau and the mini-van behind which he was seeking coer, he never saw him once point the rifle.
“I was never able to see Germaine Breau point the rifle at any of the officers,” said Comeaux.
Comeaux had no testimony related to the Molotov cocktails.
Although the trial was initially scheduled to end on Friday afternoon, we learned this afternoon that the Crown has eleven more witnesses to call, which makes a Friday ending doubtful. [Emphasis added]
“My function is not to negotiate” The cross examination of Tactical boss Sergeant Bernard, as Mi’kmaq Warriors trial continues by Miles Howe, April 2, 2014, Halifax Media Coop
Moncton, New Brunswick – Day two of the trials of Germaine ‘Jr’ Breau and Aaron Francis, the incarcerated members of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, continues today.
The day began with presiding Judge Jackson addressing Breau’s appeal to have the name of the RCMP officer who uttered racist remarks on the October 17th raid of the anti-shale gas encampment disclosed to the defence team. The motivation for this appeal, ostensibly, is to know if and when the individual in question might be taking the stand, most likely to provide testimony against Breau or Francis.
Judge Jackson noted that the disclosure was indeed relevant to the trial, but that he was in effect stonewalled from granting Breau’s request by the Crown’s revelation that no such records surrounding who the racist officer in question might actually be.
Indeed, on Monday the Crown would neither confirm nor deny that RCMP spokesperson Julie Rogers-Marsh, who noted in an earlier statement to APTN that the officer in question was subject to an internal investigation, actually even worked for the RCMP.
This suggests that either Rogers-Marsh was lying to APTN when she noted the officer was undergoing an internal investigation, or that the Crown is lying when it says that no such records of an internal investigation might have taken place.
In any case, the defence is now unable to know whether the officer in question, who noted to the effect that: ‘Crown land belongs the government, not to fucking Indians’, will be taking the stand.
The remainder of the morning was spent with the defence cross-examining Tactical Troop Site Commander Sergeant Richard Bernard.
Defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux focused his cross-examination on the tactics used by Bernard, both in leading up to the October 17th raid and in the weeks leading up to it.
Bernard conceded that the blocking of the entrance to the compound where Houston-based gas giant Southwestern Energy Resources Canada (SWN) was the “illegal” component of the protest and that in his opinion: “I wouldn’t call being camped out an unlawful act.”
This is relevant because the brunt of Bernard’s October 17th planning, in terms of forces initially expended, was related to sweeping through an adjacent field to the Irving-owned compound with guns drawn and “clear(ing) the area.”
To Bernard, basically, even though the illegal activity was actually the blocking of SWN’s equipment, the entire area had become one big protest site – an illegal one at that.
There is now serious question as to whether the encampment adjacent to the SWN compound received written permission from the land owner to camp there, with alternating theories related to exactly where the land boundaries for the area upon which they are encamped began and ended.
Also of interest, tactically, was Bernard’s information related to when the October 17th raid was planned, and when it was decided to execute the plan.
Bernard noted in court that the decision to execute the raid was taken at 9:35am of October 15th. He noted that in a meeting with RCMP negotiators they advised him that if things did not progress between the two sides, that he should “get the ball rolling” (read: attack the encampment) on the morning of the 17th.
This is important because until this point the RCMP have repeatedly stuck to the narrative that there was a marked escalation in volatility on both October 15th and 16th, and that the decision to attack the encampment on the 17th was predicated on this breakdown of both tempers, and, one would think, negotiations.
In fact this is false.
If anything, the increase in volatility was the result of Irving-owned Industrial Security Limited security guards exiting the SWN compound in a previously unknown – and provocative – manner. ISL employees, including former a New Brunswick police officer, exited the compound by a main gate on both the 15th and 16th, and approached a ‘sacred fire’ area while armed.
This was in direct contradiction with previously negotiated agreements that existed between the RCMP and the Mi’kmaq Warriors.
As well, Bernard noted that negotiations continued well into the 16th and into the early hours of the 17th. In fact, tobacco was exchanged between both sides.
While Bernard did not know the symbolism of the exchange at the time, it appears that he has recently done some research into the customs of the unceded territory upon which he resides.
“The passing of tobacco is a sign of respect and a sign that people are making a pledge to each other,” testified Bernard.
In this case, the pledge most likely would have been to continue to negotiate peacefully, not attack violently only a few hours later.
So while day two continues with no clear direction as to the actual charges facing Francis and Breau – the majority of which are related to allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails and pointing a firearm, respectively – those in attendance have been privy to a ‘setting of the scene’ of sorts. [Emphasis added]
“My report writing is just sub-standard.” Crown’s first ‘eye-witnesses’ take stand; inconclusive on gun pointing, cocktail throwing by Miles Howe, April 2, 2014, Halifax Media Coop
Constable Rob Frennet, with M-16 and cammo mask, was ready to pull the trigger on Germaine Breau on October 17th. His reports of the events, however, grew from vague to detailed following inter-department emails and prompts. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Moncton, New Brunswick – The afternoon session of day two of the trial of Germaine ‘Junior’ Breau and Aaron Francis, two members of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society who have been incarcerated since an October 17th raid against their anti-shale gas encampment, saw the first of the Crown’s supposed ‘eye-witnesses’ take the stand.
The crux of Breau’s charges surround whether or not he is guilty of five counts of pointing a rifle, while Francis’ major charges are related to whether or not he threw Molotov cocktails.
For a full list of Breau and Francis’ charges, click here.
The first of the Crown’s witnesses was a Sergeant Pierre Gardner, who is a member of the Police Dog Services. Gardner, who claimed he was an eye witness to “between five and seven” Molotovs thrown on the morning of October 17th, could not however identify who the alleged thrower was.
“I didn’t notice, as I was only focused on the safety of my tactical members,” testified Gardner. “He was male, slim, agile, wearing a cammo jacket, and by the way he threw the cocktails I knew he was right handed.”
In his cross-examination, defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux highlighted what over the course of the afternoon was to become a trend; that Gardner’s initial hand written report was relatively vague and lacking in detail, and that it was only after reviewing tapes and being prompted by superior investigating officers – which included inter-departmental circulation of photos of Francis, Breau and a third individual, William Clair – that later written reports became more fully detailed.
In fact, Gardner’s initial hand written report of his part in the October 17th raid did not even mention any Molotov cocktails being thrown.
Lemieux, with access to these circulating inter-departmental emails, pinpointed that Gardner was asked on November 20th , now over a month after the incident, by a Constable Blakely to assist in building the case against the alledged Molotov cocktail thrower by filling out a more detailed written report.
In re-creating the email conversation, Lemieux noted that Blakely learned that Gardner had been present at the scene on the morning of the 17th, and that while Gardner couldn’t identify the thrower, that his testimony would back up identifying the individual the RCMP had pinpointed as the thrower; namely Francis.
“After that I wrote up my report,” agreed Gardner.
The Crown’s next witness was Constable Rob Frennet, currently stationed at Canadian Forces Base Gaugetown. On the morning of the 17th Frennet was part of the Emergency Response Team. Frennet, armed with a 9 millimetre pistol and an M-16 assault rifle, had ‘lethal oversight’, meaning that the ultimate decision to shoot to kill on the morning of the 17th rested with him.
From his vantage point on the 17th – which was behind a power poll – Frennet noted that he had a clear and unobstructed view of the gun handler, who he identified as Germaine Breau in the courtroom. It is important to note that Breau has already pleaded guilty to handling the firearm in question, but not to pointing it at any officer, let alone five.
It is also important to note that Frennet’s position would have put him directly behind Breau, so that whatever he observed would have been focused on Breau’s backside. Frennet would certainly not be amongst those five officers that Breau allegedly pointed the rifle at.
During his testimony, Frennet noted that Breau shouldered the rifle several times and raised it to a 45 degree angle. At each of these occasions, Frennet noted that he began to pull the trigger of the M-16 that he had trained on Breau.
“He was very, very close to getting shot that day,” testified Frennet.
Frennet also noted that he had a clear view of Aaron Francis as he ran into the woods, around the same time that Breau had the rifle in the on-again-off-again shouldered position. It was Francis, said Frennet, who then lit the “six or seven” Molotov cocktails, threw them, and then when less-lethal rounds were fired into Francis’ wooded position, came running back to the main stand-off on Hannay road several minutes after that.
Frennet provided clear details of an individual who he believed could only be Francis, based upon the length of his cammo jacket, his black balaclava and a “chain of beads” that was hanging from his pants.
In her cross-examination, defence lawyer Alison Menard began to piece together a very similar situation as that of Sergeant Gardner; that of an initially vague written report, followed by an evermore detailed account of events after group reviews of video and photo evidence and inter-departmental emails and prompts.
Menard noted that in Frennet’s initial report he noted that Breau “shouldered the rifle, but did not raise it.”
“Had Breau wanted to shoot he could have done it,” said Menard to Frennet. “You had a clear shot on him, and had he pointed (the rifle) you would have shot him.”
Further, Frennet’s initial written report noted that he thought Breau was using the rifle as intimidation, but was not using it as a weapon. Frennet also did not provide a physical description of Breau in his initial report.
In terms of the Molotov cocktail throwing, Frennet’s initial report also did not have a description of the person throwing the cocktails. It was in fact an email sent on November 15th by Investigating officer Blakely that prompted Frennet to write up his description of Francis, whom he identified to Blakely as the thrower through an emailed image of Francis that was already circulating through the RCMP.
“My report writing is just sub-standard,” testified Frennet in reference to the fact that numerous physical details of what Francis was wearing were being brought up for the first time in court today, and were absent from any of his reports. “I wasn’t nearly as thorough as I probably should have been.”
“To be fair I think it was a very volatile, difficult situation,” said defence lawyer Menard at the wrap-up of the second day. “People’s attentions were scattered. It puts people under an enormous amount of pressure and anxiety, and I think the testimony we heard today made clear that that can have an effect on peoples’ observations.
“The core of the question before the court is really about identification. Molotovs were thrown. But of course it’s troubling [that more detailed police reports are surfacing over time]. Over time memory changes and people can have a tendency to become more certain about events, when maybe that’s not how memory works.”
“Memory is the faculty that allows you to forget,” added defence lawyer Lemieux. [Emphasis added]
Coady Stevens, Mi’kmaq Warrior, speaks on conditions in New Brunswick prison No indigenous spirituality, but strip searches, holy bibles and solitary confinement in abundance by Miles Howe, January 23, 2014, Halifax Media Coop
K’JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – Yesterday we reported on the inability of indigenous inmates to pray in their traditional ways in the Southeast Regional Correctional Center (SRCC), in Shediac, New Brunswick. There is currently no indigenous-specific programming at the SRCC, and while there is a paid chaplain on staff, deputy superintendent John Cann noted that the SRCC was currently looking for indigenous spiritual elders only on a “volunteer” basis.
Yesterday’s article focused in some specificity on the spiritual plight of Germaine ‘Junior’ Breau and Aaron Francis, the two members of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society that were arrested in the RCMP’s raid of the anti-shale gas encampment along highway 134, on October 17th. Denial of spiritual services in the provincial facility appeared as cruel and unusual punishment, and may be a breach of Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows for freedom of conscience and religion.
Coady Stevens, another of the Mi’kmaq Warriors who was jailed following the October 17th raid, relates that the denial of indigenous spiritual guidance at the SRCC was very much a real and debilitating factor during his two month stay at the facility.
Not only this, but denying spiritual access was only one of many punishing elements that the six members of the Warriors Society faced during their incarceration.
Stevens relays a story of extended solitary confinement, random and excessive strip searches and readily accessible Christian dogma within the prison, to the detriment of traditional indigenous spirituality.
“First they put us in the hole,” says Stevens, referencing the name given to a solitary confinement cell. “Then they put in [a] medical [holding cell], which is pretty much isolation. We were in there for 23 hours a day, and we were let out for an hour or a half hour every day.
“They split us up. There were six of us [Warriors] and they put us into twos. They put two of us into the ‘hole’. They put two of us into the ‘shoe’. And they put two of us into ‘medical’. They’re all pretty much the same thing, all pretty much the same cell. There’s not much difference, just a different name for it.”
Stevens notes that each cell was about 9 feet long by 7 feet wide.
“I was in the hole with Junior (who remains in custody). We were each in our own cell and if we wanted to speak we’d speak under the door. There was about an inch of space underneath.
“We went out at different times. So we never had contact, like I could not physically shake his hand. We were out at different times, so he’d walk by my cell, or I’d be out and I’d walk by his cell.”
Stevens says that this solitary confinement went on for between three weeks and a month. During this time he says he had no human contact except for the guards. He also notes that he was not allowed to call family members to let them know he was safe.
“It makes you go crazy, because the hole is like the jail within the jail,” he says. “There’s writing, a whole bunch of graffiti on the walls. It makes you feel like shit when you’re in there for three weeks straight. Especially when you’re thinking about what’s going on. And we had no contact. I kept asking for a phone call to my mother, the last thing she knew we were getting shot at with rubber bullets. She didn’t know if they were real or not. And they didn’t give me a call to my mother.”
During this time in solitary, Stevens also notes that he was strip searched either “six or seven” times. This is strange, as with no contact with any other human being, surely one strip search would have sufficed, if the intention were simply to examine whether the individual in question was in possession of any contraband substance.
“I was thinking: ‘Why are we getting searched? We can’t bring anything in, we’re already in the hole. We’ve been searched, how are we going to get something in there?’” says Stevens.
“Random search, though, that’s what they’d say. Random search. And they’d strip search you.”
As for requesting spiritual guidance, Stevens corroborates the story earlier related by Suzanne Patles; that the Warriors were being refused spiritual elders, despite making repeated requests.
“I asked for [the presence of a spiritual elder] several times, but they always gave me the runaround,” says Stevens. “I asked the chaplain and he said ‘Well, we’re trying to get someone, but we can’t really find anyone.’ From what I understand they were trying to get a volunteer, but it would have been hard for them to get a volunteer to come down on a regular basis.
“I put in about five written requests that were on the record. Once they got back to me. There was a time where I signed it, along with six other inmates that were native. And still nothing.”
The SRCC’s chaplain, however, apparently was quick to offer a holy bible to Stevens.
“It felt like the only way to pray was in a different religion, that I’m not,” says Stevens. “I could talk to the priest and the chaplain and there was a prayer group. There were other inmates that had prayer groups, but it was through the holy bible. And to me, I believe in traditional ways. And it felt like I had to [pray]. I even went to a point where I started reading the bible. And I never read the bible before.”
The lasting effects of this experience, to Stevens, are a loss of pride in himself, which he is only beginning to regain now. In an earlier interview, Stevens spoke proudly of finding a sense of pride and self – as an indigenous man – within the larger context of fighting for his traditional territory, and the protection of water. The invasiveness of repeated strip searches, the isolation and the denial of spiritual practices have cost Stevens his “inner peace.”
“The things that happened over the summer, I’d never seen something like that before,” says Stevens.
“With drumming and tradition, I never got in touch with my ways like that before.
“I had that pride, and that took a while to build up. And when they put me in jail, that pride kind of went away. They’re strip searching you and stuff, spreading for the guard, and it’s a very personal search, and you don’t have any pride after that. It kind of wore off, that inner peace feeling. Like I felt pretty good about the tradition and people coming together, and when I got out, all that was gone.”
About to engage on a West Coast speaking tour, Stevens notes that one of the lifelines while in prison was the vast number of postcards and letters he received from supporters all over the world.
“I got so many letters,” he says. “I got letters from people from the United Kingdom, from Northern Ireland, one form Australia. All across Canada. They were saying that we inspired them to do protests in their countries too. I saved all those letters.” [Emphasis added]