Sixty-eight-year-old John Perkins of Earltown is striking a blow for democracy after he says he was forcibly hauled out of a public meeting by an RCMP officer last May.

Perkins held a news conference in Halifax yesterday to explain why he is filing a lawsuit against Atlantic Gold Corporation which hosted two information sessions on May 23 at the Sherbrooke Fire Hall to answer questions about a proposed, controversial open-pit gold mining operation at Cochrane Hill near the St. Mary’s River.

Perkins is an environmentalist and member of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia who attended both sessions. He alleges Maryse Belanger, the CAO of Atlantic Gold, authorized Atlantic Gold’s security manager to make a 911 call to the local RCMP and have Perkins removed from the meeting.

“I feel strongly that it is my duty to hold them accountable for the injuries and harm they have done to me and to do what I can to stop this from happening again,” Perkins read from a prepared statement.  “I have done this because I do not want people to think that corporations are legally permitted to make false accusations against members of the public in order to have them arrested and removed from public meetings. I have done this because I do not want people to think that the RCMP can act on such false accusations and remove people from public meetings without any investigation whatsoever.”

None of these allegations have yet been tested in court. But a video of Perkin’s ejection and arrest taken by Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Association and NOPE (No Open Pit Excavations) revealed how Perkins was approached by Terry Moser (later identified as Atlantic Gold’s Security manager) and RCMP officer Justin Greene and told to leave the second session which began at 5pm.

Video courtesy Scott Beaver.

When Perkins protested he had done nothing wrong and had been invited to attend, he was told he was obstructing justice. The video shows Perkins holding both hands out and backing towards the door before the RCMP officer shoves him to the ground and carries him outside.

A news release from the RCMP the next day says Perkins was handcuffed, arrested, and spent two hours in a cell before being released without being charged. It also sheds light on why they showed up at the fire hall:

At 5 p.m. on May 23, Sherbrooke RCMP responded to a 911 call indicating police assistance was required at a public meeting due to several persons causing a disturbance. An RCMP officer attended where a man was identified as one of the persons responsible. Despite repeated warnings to leave, the man refused and then resisted the officer’s attempt to arrest.

Perkins has filed a second lawsuit against the RCMP on the grounds officer Justin Greene “was negligent in arresting Perkins without conducting any independent investigation whatsoever.” Several people at the meeting have disputed the RCMP statement that “several persons were causing a disturbance” and have told reporters there was no disturbance, period. Perkins alleges he suffered injury, loss, and damage as a result of the incident, including a sprained wrist and nerve damage to his hand, shock, and mental anguish.

The RCMP have declined to comment on the lawsuit because Perkins has also taken Justice Minister Mark Furey’s advice and filed a complaint with the RCMP Civilian Complaints Commissioner. Furey declined to investigate the actions of the Sherbrooke detachment although he does have broad authority under the Police Act of Nova Scotia.

Communications director Dustin O’leary of Atlantic Gold, which has since been purchased by an Australian firm called St. Barbara Limited, emailed this statement in response to the news conference yesterday:

“St. Barbara Limited respects Mr. Perkins’ right to explore all legal avenues available to him, but as this is a proceeding with the courts, our company will have no further comment on this case until it is resolved.”

The last time the gold mining company commented publicly on what happened at the Sherbrooke fire hall was in a May 31 “Letter to the Editor” published by The Chronicle Herald from the chairman and CEO of Atlantic Gold, Steven Dean:

On behalf of Atlantic Gold, I’d like to express our sincere regret to the community for an incident that disrupted a meeting we hosted regarding our Cochrane Hill gold mine project in Sherbrooke on May 23….

The individual had been asked to leave the information session by our security staff and was subsequently removed by the RCMP. This was an unfortunate and regrettable incident, and we are conducting an internal review to understand what happened and to ensure we are fostering spaces where community members can exchange information and engage in discussions while feeling safe and respected.

Part explanation and part damage control, the letter to the editor from the company did not say it was sorry nor offer any apology to those in attendance. Perkins says he never got a call or apology from anyone at Atlantic Gold for how he was treated.

“The only reason I can think of for the corporation to falsely accuse me of causing a disturbance is that they did not like the questions I had asked at an earlier meeting that afternoon,” Perkins says. “They called the RCMP to silence me — to prevent me from asking any critical questions that would be heard by fellow Nova Scotians attending the meeting.”

Perkins says during the first session of the two public information meetings hosted by Atlantic Gold, he repeatedly questioned the company’s claim it had assembled a panel of three “independent experts” to advise the community about the environmental impact from the proposed open-pit mine at Cochrane Hill. Atlantic Gold eventually admitted it had paid the expenses of all the panelists and that the company was not bound to accept their advice.

“Company representatives made a big deal of portraying these people as a board of independent experts that because they were independent, we could have great trust in what they had to say,” recalled Perkins. “I pushed back and questioned that independence because I wanted people in the room to know that this was just a charade.”

Perkins says he also debated Atlantic Gold’s statement it had deposited with the Province a $10.4 million cash bond towards the cost of future cleanup at its active Moose River open pit gold mine. Perkins argued the surety was in the form of a letter of credit which would be worthless if Atlantic Gold was bought by another company. (Atlantic Gold was taken over two months later by St. Barbara Limited.)

Atlantic Gold insisted it put up the cash and there exists documented evidence from the province that Atlantic Gold has already paid $8.14 towards a $10.4 million surety which a Department of Energy and Mines spokesperson says the Province will collect by year end.

At some point in the discussion with Perkins, which witnesses say was neutral in tone unlike a more heated earlier discussion with another citizen, Atlantic Gold CAO Maryse Belanger intervened to shut down further questions about “business.” The company has multi-million dollar plans to open three more open-pit gold mines along the Eastern Shore if it can get the necessary approvals from the McNeil government.

Friends of Perkins have set up a GoFundMe to help raise $15,000 to cover legal costs. More than $2,200 has been pledged. Perkins’ lawyer is Brian Hebert; his name may be familiar because of his representation of the Pictou Landing First Nation in their negotiations with the province over prolonged pollution at Boat Harbour.

Perkins is also receiving support from Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia and other environmental groups.

“It is critical that any person who wishes to participate in public engagement is able to do so in an atmosphere that is open, accessible, and safe,” states Lisa Mitchell, Executive Director of the East Coast Environmental Law Association. “John Perkins was not given that opportunity.”

“All he did during the first meeting was ask some pointed questions, as did many people in the room,” said Ray Plourde, wilderness coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, who attended both sessions. “At the second meeting he was simply sitting in a chair. I witnessed the whole thing. In over 20 years of environmental activism I have been to lot of public information meetings and I have never seen anything so shockingly brutal and inappropriate.”

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. These are the kind of companies we want doing business in Nova Scotia? Truly desperate times…..