Halifax police arrested four people at the entrance to the Eisner Cove wetland on Tuesday, making way for a developer’s vehicles to get in and clear the land.
The property next to Highway 111 in Dartmouth is one of the provincial government’s special planning areas, where it’s fast-tracking development in an attempt to ease the city’s housing crisis. That means Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr will decide whether development there goes ahead, subverting Halifax regional council’s usual process of public hearings. He’s already approved early tree clearing and earth moving at the site, even though the project isn’t approved.
Neighbours and environmentalists are concerned about the proposal from Clayton Developments and A.J. Legrow Holdings to build about 1,200 homes in the area. The developer will be building a causeway over the wetland, and run-off from the road network will threaten the health of what’s left of it.
Two groups, Defend Eisner Cove Wetland and Save Our Southdale Wetland Society, have been fighting the proposal, and Defend Eisner Cove Wetland has been taking direct action, camping out at one of the entrances to the wetland and attempting to block equipment coming in to clear trees.
On Tuesday morning, Halifax Regional Police moved in to defend the developer’s equipment from those hoping to defend the wetland.
“We are on scene on Mount Hope Avenue near highway 111 in Dartmouth in relation to a demonstration,” police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said in an email Tuesday afternoon.
“At this time 3 people have been arrested and charges are anticipated. Further details will be provided when they become available.”
In a news release on Tuesday afternoon, MacLeod confirmed there was a fourth arrest at the site later in the day. Everyone arrested — a 45-year-old man, a 41-year-old man, a 27-year-old man and a 57-year-old woman — was charged with obstruction, and the 57-year-old woman was also charged with assaulting an officer.
“This morning at approximately 7:30 a.m. officers responded to reports of a planned demonstration in the area of Mount Hope Avenue near Highway 111. Officer [sic] were on scene to ensure public safety for everyone in the area,” MacLeod wrote in the release.
When the Halifax Examiner arrived on scene at about 9am, the arrests had already happened and those three people had been taken away in police vehicles. There were still about 20 police officers on site at that point, along with provincial occupational health and safety officers and several private security guards with camcorders.
Tara Lapointe, a member of both Defend Eisner Cove Wetland and Save Our Southdale Wetland Society, witnessed and recorded the arrests.
“This morning, we had protesters on site, and we had the harvesters come with heavy machinery. We were protesting on public land. Dozens of police officers came out in riot gear and bicycles and paddy wagons. We had probably only a dozen or so protesters peacefully protesting and the police were actively engaging with the protesters to allow the heavy machinery to be unloaded,” Lapointe told the Examiner.
She added that she doesn’t think the machinery should be operated within 500 feet of anyone, but it was very close to the police and protesters.
“The passive protesters weren’t moving from the ground and two of them were arrested. One quite brutally, he was pushed over by a cop and smashed his head into the pavement. They were taken off in a paddy wagon,” Lapointe said.
Darlene Gilbert, a Mi’kmaw woman, was also arrested, and is presumably the arrestee accused of assaulting an officer.
Lil MacPherson was standing next to Gilbert when she was arrested. She said they were both standing on a hill near the property line, Gilbert tripped, and two nearby officers told her to move. She told them not to touch her.
“And then he just said, ‘Oh, you’re resisting arrest. You’re getting arrested,’” MacPherson said.
“She did not do anything wrong. They really jumped the gun and why they didn’t arrest me too, I don’t know.”
MacPherson said she thinks the police saw Gilbert as a threat.
“She’s a threat to the development because she wasn’t moving. She said I’m standing on unceded territory and she is. She has treaty rights. She is the only one that has rights, not us. So she was standing her ground and I think that they were keeping an eye on her because she had the most power,” MacPherson said.
Gilbert was arrested protesting the Alton Gas project in 2019, and featured in Elliot Page’s documentary, There’s Something in the Water.
Page was on site Tuesday morning, and told the Examiner he was there to show support for Gilbert and for the wetland.
“I’m just someone who’s from here that’s fortunate enough to have a platform and ideally that can create some more awareness about what’s actually going on,” Page said.
Page said the development is no fix for Halifax’s housing crisis.
“I understand the reality of what’s going on, and this most certainly is not the answer. There are so many more other solutions, and especially being up here and witnessing it just aches your heart,” Page said.
Bill Zebedee of the Save Our Southdale Wetland Society, said it looked like the developer was collecting trees it had already cleared.
“My assumption is they’re doing that in order to allow more machines in to do stuff, which may involve infilling the wetland,” he said.
Zebedee has filed an appeal of the provincial government decision to allow the developer to infill the wetland, and is expecting a response by the end of September.