YouTube video

The above video is a segment of a longer video taken by author Joan Baxter. To view the full video click here; a more complete version of events is captured by the video taken by Scott Beaver, which is included in whole below.

If yesterday’s information session was meant to convince the people of Sherbrooke — or for that matter any other Nova Scotians — that Atlantic Gold has their best interests at heart, it failed — spectacularly.

And I mean spectacularly.

Not only were most of the people who spoke up strongly opposed to Atlantic Gold’s proposed mine in Cochrane Hill on the banks of the St. Mary’s River in Guysborough County, and very vocal about their fears of what the proposed open pit gold mine would do to the river and their community, the event also resulted in the brutal arrest of an innocent citizen.

It had been billed as an “informal information session” on “Tailings dams and tailings management: the Atlantic Gold approach,” with three experts who were being brought in to answer “questions from the community related to best practices for the design, construction and operations of tailings management facilities” that Atlantic Gold is “committed to using” for its proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Mine (which you can read about here).

Atlantic Gold’s public notice of information session
Atlantic Gold’s public notice of information session

In the announcement, Atlantic Gold said refreshments were going to be on offer and it extended the invitation to the public, saying: “Please join us in attending this informational session.”

It was possibly meant to be something of a public relations effort to try to appease concerned citizens about the potential impact of such a mine and its toxic tailings in advance of the big acquisition announced last week, that the Australian gold producer, St. Barbara Limited, was purchasing Vancouver-based Atlantic Gold for $722 million, which you can read about here.

But it was definitely promoted as a public meeting.

Originally, the event was planned for Thursday between 3:00 and 4:30pm at the Sherbrooke firehall, with a capacity of 70 people. But citizens from the area were worried that many would not be able to get to the meeting during working hours, and after they made several phone calls to Atlantic Gold, the company added a second session from 5 to 6:30pm.

It all began quietly enough. In the jam-packed room, Atlantic Gold communications director Dustin O’Leary welcomed people to the session, asking that any “civil action” be taken outside, and reminding the audience that the experts were there to talk only about mine tailings management.

He also said that the sessions were being videotaped and that they would make them available on Atlantic Gold’s website.

I dearly hope they do, but given what happened, I rather doubt they will (at least not without some huge edits).

Peter Lightall with his powerpoint on mine tailings dams and impoundments. Photo: Joan Baxter

The first presenter, Peter Lighthall, “an independent geotechnical consultant with 48 years of experience,” offered basic information about the various kinds of tailings facilities that mines use for their waste. He also ran through a few of the more horrific mine tailings disasters in recent years — Mt. Polley in BC in 2014, and then a couple of catastrophic, deadly ones in Brazil.

Referring to the Mt. Polley disaster, which has left the people of BC with a $40 million clean-up bill and lasting pollution in Quesnel Lake, part of the Fraser River system, Lighthall said, “In a way it was a good thing. It was a wake-up call for industry.”

He had made it only about halfway through his PowerPoint presentation when the questions began. The audience was well-informed, asking for specifics of the proposed mine at Cochrane Hill, how much water it would use, what effect the tailings might have on the river, what chemicals would be in tailings effluent, and how long the company would be hanging around to monitor the tailings after the mine closed, and who would pay if something happened to the tailings facility after they were long gone.

Others expressed concerns about the mercury- and arsenic-laced historic mine tailings that would have to be unearthed should Atlantic Gold put in the open pit gold mines that it has proposed for Beaver Dam, Fifteen Mile Stream, and Cochrane Hill, in addition to the one it already operates in Moose River.

They also challenged members of the panel, introduced as “independent” experts, about the extent of their independence given that they were being paid by Atlantic Gold to do the presentation, and are also on the payroll as the members of the “independent tailings review board” that the company has retained for the Cochrane Hill mine.

Several times the experts had to defer to James Millard, Atlantic Gold’s head of environment and permitting, for answers, admitting that they didn’t have any detailed information for some of the specific questions about Cochrane Hill and the design of a tailings facility that would work best there.

Towards the end, Atlantic Gold’s COO, Maryse Belanger appeared near the back of the room, and interrupted, admonishing the audience for asking questions relating to the “business” side of things and not sticking only to tailings questions. She did not look happy.

Atlantic Gold president Maryse Belanger at the PDAC convention earlier this year; Belanger told the metals investor forum, “I always say it’s not about making gold, it’s about making money.”

Then the first session was over. Refreshments were indeed served, and several participants decided to stick around for the second session, hoping there would be fewer people in attendance and they might have a chance to ask a few more questions.

Some who spoke to me said they wanted to ask about the mercury in historic tailings from gold mining in the 1800s and 1900s at the mine location, and what would happen to the mercury when Atlantic Gold “reprocessed” those tailings, something Millard said they might do.

John Perkins, a member of the citizens’ group Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS), told me he wanted to ask the panellists whether they intended to adhere to recommendations made by a review panel after the Mt. Polley disaster, that no tailings facilities should be constructed upstream from communities or environmentally sensitive areas.

Perkins wasn’t given a chance to ask that question.

The second session had just begun when a few people who were preparing to take their seats at the back of the room were approached by a tall, burly fellow who said they had attended the first session and now had to leave.

He pointed to four individuals: Scott Beaver, head of the St. Mary’s River Association who leads the No Open Pit Excavation (NOPE) campaign; Madeline Conacher and John Perkins of SuNNS; and myself, there to cover the event for the Halifax Examiner. (There were others in the audience who had also attended the first session who were not being asked to leave.)

We countered that Atlantic Gold’s communications director said it was fine for anyone to attend the second session, as long as there was enough room for those who hadn’t been able to make the first session. Since about half the seats were empty, we pointed out that there was no reason for us to leave.

The security agent, wearing no uniform or identification, refused to tell us who he was, and said he would call the police if we didn’t leave.

A few minutes later, he was back with an RCMP officer in tow. The RCMP officer went immediately after John Perkins, who recalls that he was told to accompany the officer outside. When Perkins asked why, and refused to go, backing away, the officer accused him of resisting arrest, forced him out the door and brutally wrestled him to the ground, under the watchful eye of the security guard.

Neither the RCMP officer nor the security guard seemed concerned when I told them that Perkins had a heart condition. The RCMP officer roughly handcuffed him, despite Perkins’ repeated cries that the cuffs were too tight. He then put him in the RCMP vehicle and took him to the Sherbrooke police station.

There was stunned silence in the hall.

Full disclosure: John Perkins is my neighbour and also a family friend.

I asked Atlantic Gold’s communications director Dustin O’Leary why Perkins had been arrested and why four people (including me) had been told to leave. This is when I learned that the public meeting to which Atlantic Gold had invited people was actually, according to O’Leary, not public at all, but a “private” meeting.

After that, the communications director clammed up and refused to answer my questions about who the security guard was working for and on whose orders he had been acting.

YouTube video

Video courtesy Scott Beaver.

I then addressed the same questions to Belanger, who had taken a place at the head table with the panellists. She admitted that the security person worked for Atlantic Gold, but refused to say who had given the orders for our eviction or to call the police.

“Shockingly brutal”

To describe yesterday’s information session as a PR disaster hardly does the fiasco justice.

Several people walked out of the session. Others took to social media to make their views known.

I cannot believe the shocking scene I just witnessed in Sherbrooke NS at a public info session held by #AtlanticGold. They had an RCMP officer drag out an audience member who was just sitting there, pushed him to the ground, handcuffed and arrested him. It was shockingly brutal.

— Raymond Plourde (@EACwilderness) May 23, 2019

Ray Plourde, Wilderness Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, tweeted, “I cannot believe the shocking scene I just witnessed” and described the event as “shockingly brutal.”

On her Facebook page, Élise Franceline Jordan-Rochichaud of Sherbrooke, wrote:

Tonight, my mother and I went to a meeting hosted by Atlantic Gold about their tailings system — how it works, etc. I oppose the gold mine that will be set up in Cochrane Hill but I went with an open mind. About ten minutes into the presentation an RCMP officer shows up to arrest one of the attendees. This man was in a public meeting, in a public place, who was not disturbing the peace (I didn’t realize he was even there at first.) He was not told why they were arresting him. The police officer threw him on the ground, cuffed him and dragged him away.

We were at this point very upset and confused and wanted to know what was going on. When asked who authorized the security guard to call the police, no one fessed up. Maryse Belanger, the COO of the company claimed that it was a private meeting (it wasn’t. I didn’t get an invite. No one did). She said she wanted everyone to stay and ask questions. One woman brought up [that] if this was the case, why were four of them at the previous meeting asked to leave? They did not have an answer. Mom said to just be honest, tell us who called the cops, and we could move on. No one would take responsibility. So most of us walked out. This entire event has been recorded and will hopefully reach the media soon.

But tell me again how this mine is supposed to be good for our community when they treat us like this?

… I don’t have an open mind on this topic anymore. I am disgusted and appalled at Atlantic Gold’s attitude, but sadly, not surprised.

John Perkins was released after two hours in custody, with no charges laid. Because of numbness in his wrist, he went to the hospital in Sherbrooke and was told by the doctor that he had nerve damage from the handcuffs, and that his wrist is sprained.

John Perkins after his release from custody. Photo: Joan Baxter

Perkins told the Halifax Examiner that he was sitting quietly at the meeting and that he had done absolutely nothing to warrant either being evicted or arrested.

He added:

I’m glad this was in Nova Scotia, where all that happened is that I was slightly roughed up. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a citizen concerned about Canadian mining in some other parts of the world, where they might end up dead for defending water against a gold mine.

Perkins hasn’t yet decided what he will do, but he says he will be seeking legal advice.

Joan Baxter is the author of the four-part series,Fool’s Gold: Nova Scotia’s myopic pursuit of metals and minerals.”

The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website:; Twitter @joan_baxter

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  1. After reading monday AMs article,I get a better understanding of how things went wrong…Firstly,when you have aretired MEATHEAD,,,from the military heading up security,they tend to disregard laws and try doing as they please,as if they were still in the military,”do as I say without question” What bothers me more,(because I now know what /who the head of their security is) is the fact that the RCMP acted in this fashion, … Talk about building community reapport…This officer needs trainning,,,seriously….Even if he had a bad day,,,you do your job properly…he did no assessment of the situation,just did the beck and call of a MEATHEAD,from what I can see of all of this…Atlantic Gold didnt do itself any favours by doing what transpired..

  2. Its not a good sign when we see videos like this…RCMP need to be held accountable,all the facts surrounding this laid open.I hope this man get the right legal representation and holds the RCMP accountable.. Seems liike we are more and more moving towar5ds a police state…This type of policing is becomminjg far to common… If this man was a problem ,and police called..this should have been handlled differeently..To do this to him for no reason (other than the wishes of a corporation), is scary…We used to have rights in Canada..I hope this is a wakeup call to citizens of that area and Nova Scotia…Usually corporations take the money and run,leaving up to pick up the tab…good examples are pulp and paper industry,,now mining,,,whats next? Well we dont have an y fish left per say… hopefully Nova Scotia will put the run to these bums…we dont need them here

  3. RCMP behaving like Putin’s thug cops. Democracy’s deathwatch starts now.

    CBC has finally picked up the story but , surprise!, no comments allowed.

  4. Congratulations to the people at the meeting for standing up to Acadia Gold and its thugs, both public (RCMP) and private. I note a number of folks followed the cop and his victim into the adjoining room, presumably to bear witness. Makes me proud. It seems the bitter lessons of Westray have not been lost. Can’t say the same for the Mounties. And Acadia’s flack should spend a semester studying communications at Mount Saint Vincent.

  5. While so many aspects of this story are disturbing, I have to say that the RCMP handling of a Canadian citizen, there to observe and participate and speak his piece, was the most disturbing. I could go into a full throttle rant but I’m getting old and running out of energy.

  6. Thanks for the report and video coverage of this enlightening meeting. The latter made it clear who the RCMP officer thought was the enemy (the gathered citizens) and whom he considered to be his ally (the security fellow). Anyone from the company head table could have shot into the audience and wouldn’t have got the rough treatment the arrested citizen received. One wonders if an officer from a local police force, who might have known many of the audience members, would have operated from the same assumptions as did the RCMP. I hope this coverage makes readers think twice when they read a future news article which reports that the “event turned violent”.

  7. I don’t think Atlantic Gold need fear any genuine consequences for organizing the assault of this guy.

    Premier McNeil is overwhelmingly in favor of mining (ask the folks in Fall river) and no environmental downside nor the assault of peaceful dissenters would change that. Do you imagine a Tory government would be much different? McNeil might try to minimize what happened or to paint Perkins as some dangerous radical who had to be subdued, if asked.

    Judging from its absence in news media other than the HE, nobody bothered to ask.

    Atlantic Gold has little to fear in Nova Scotia. We’re open for business.

  8. There’s an aspect of this meeting and the ejection that as far as I can tell haven’t been discussed.

    It was being held in a public building. Public space. Paid for by the taxpayer.

    So that raises the question of just who exactly can call for the ejection of a member of the public from a public building. A building they paid for.

    And it raises the question about just who the RCMP is responsible for reacting to when it comes to ejecting someone from a public building. To me the answer should be “whatever public official is responsible for the building”. The answer is not “any private concern using the building”.

    Firstly I think the RCMP should be admonished for responding AT ALL to a call from a private company about ejecting someone from a public building (that’s irrespective of whether there were grounds for arresting him). I see nothing in the article that suggests that any private company — or any security guard working for them — would have any right to eject a taxpayer from a public building for merely sitting in it. They were renting the space, not purchasing the authority and control of the space.

    Secondly it’s clear that THIS private company doesn’t understand what a public meeting is OR what a public BUILDING is and they shouldn’t be allowed to rent taxpayer funded facilities again.

    Whatever the merits, or non-merits, are of this endeavour this company should be told to sell their stake and go away because clearly they aren’t trustworthy.

  9. Why on earth would the RCMP even send an officer out on a non-incident like this?

    What crime was being committed?

    Whose life or property was in danger?

    Who pays for RCMP services, the taxpaying citizen who was manhandled or that company?

  10. This is sad. RCMP bullying the public is now common. The officer should have asked for both sides of the story before bulldozing in and arresting an innocent citizen. Slammed him to the ground while he asks what he did. Shame on Atlantic Gold and the cops.

    The RCMP have become puppets for big business as was clearly shown here. People need to share this with their facebook friends and let all Nova Scotians see how Atlantic Gold will be conducting business in this province.

    This wasn’t even a protest. It was a public info session. I guess they sure set the tone for residents who think of going against the gold mines who wish to pollute our water.

    1. You’re right. We’ll expect this crap and be live streaming it from the moment the RCMP car arrives.

  11. Very disturbing. It will be difficult to believe anything coming from the mining company after this episode. It will be hard to trust that they will take environmental protection seriously when they act like that towards people.

    Those in attendance must be commended for keeping calm and acting responsibly in the face of such hostile action against one of their fellow audience members.

  12. This video – and the entire incident – is beyond upsetting and disturbing. Aside from the absolutely unjust treatment John suffered and the astonishing manipulation of a PUBLIC meeting (during which participants were behaving well and in-scope of the rules initially defined by Atlantic Gold) I am appalled that I am only reading about this in the Examiner.

    Don’t get me wrong – it’s amazing the Examiner is reporting on this shocking, disappointing, and horrific incident. My shock is that reading other NS media this morning, the Examiner seems to be the ONLY media outlet reporting this. Where are all the other media outlets?

    This disastrous incident detailing the conduct of Atlantic Gold AND the RCMP needs to be in the public light as broadly as possible so Nova Scotians can truly understand who they are dealing with (Atlantic Gold and the RCMP) in this matter and how they behave and operate. Yesterday, Atlantic Gold and the RCMP both showed their true colours and made their own beds and now they NEED to lay in them in view of not only Nova Scotia but the entire world as they so deserve.

    1. I have left it a few days after the incident and still not much of a peep about it in the other news outlets. Very disturbing. Reporting like the halifaxexaminer is special and I subscribed to them to show my support for great and honest reporting. Keep it up. Still, all us regular folks have to share this stuff on their facebook and media feeds to get people seeing and talking about it. Bypass the traditional corporate media.

  13. NOVA SCOTIA THUG LIFE… The RCMP is a corporate police force, as can be readily seen from this footage. Ten years ago, as part of my reporting on Frank Anderson’s fraudulent escapades at South West Shore Development Authority (SWSDA) [see Examiner May 13, I attended a SWSDA meeting and was told I was not welcome. After declining that offer – based on my knowledge that the courts had opined that SWSDA was a public entity – an RCMP Sgt and Corporal arrived and insisted I leave the premises (public fire hall) because the SWSDA executive said I was unwelcome. How does the RCMP expect to generate the trust and goodwill of citizens when they continue to act like thugs, doing the bidding of corporate bosses?

  14. Disgusting and shocking. Thank goodness for cell phones and a still free press! That gold mining company has shot themselves in the foot very very badly. Using private Security goons with the RCMP at their beck and call? Absolutely disgusting
    I foresee a strong and swift reaction from various quarters. We still have enough social capital as citizens in Nova Scotia to stand up for ourselves and this will reverberate. It is not the year 1893.

  15. It is hard to watch that video of John Perkin’s arrest. This should be required footage for everyone tasked with the job of determining what industrial projects are permitted to go on here. Anyone claiming we can tailor things to protect our water and environment is flat out lying.

  16. I want to say “astonishing”, but having followed the exploits of Canadian mining companies and their murderous, disastrous activities in Mexico and throughout Latin America, this is far from surprising.

    The actions of the RCMP require explanation… corporate police force, anyone?