MONCTON, N.B. - A lawyer representing shale gas protesters who were arrested at a demonstration near Rexton, N.B., two weeks ago says they have been poorly treated by police and the justice system.
Alison Menard says some of the people still in custody have had their rights violated.
"They don't have access to their lawyers, they are not able to return phone calls, they don't have access to family members, they are not having visitors," Menard said Friday.
"Some of them still don't have any personal hygiene products and it has been two or three weeks since they have been in detention."
The province's Justice Department did not return messages seeking comment.
Menard and many of the protesters gathered on the steps of a courthouse in Moncton to express their concerns.
Forty people were arrested after RCMP enforced an injunction on Oct. 17 to prevent people from blocking a compound near Rexton where SWN Resources was storing exploration equipment. The protesters had been there for weeks.
Police said they seized guns and improvised explosive devices when they enforced the injunction to end the blockade of the compound. Six police vehicles were burned and police responded with pepper spray and fired non-lethal beanbag-type bullets to defuse the situation.
Jason Augustine, who was one of the people arrested, said police were heavy-handed.
"We were there for Mother Earth as a peaceful demonstration," he said. "We were there peacefully when the RCMP came up and raided us."
The Mounties have defended their actions, saying they felt public safety was threatened.
But former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters said she believes human rights were violated.
"We cannot be treating people like this any more," she said. "It doesn't matter if you are red, white, yellow or black, we're all human beings."
According to court documents filed by SWN Resources to support the injunction, the company says it has suffered major financial losses as a result of ongoing protests against shale gas development.
In an affidavit filed Oct. 2 with the Court of Queen's Bench in Moncton, SWN Resources says safety concerns prompted the company to stop shale gas exploration early in 2011 and not perform any of the work last year.
The affidavit says the company loses about $5,000 per hour when it cannot conduct its work and that batteries from equipment were stolen, lines were cut, and geophones — units that are used for seismic testing — were vandalized.
"A drill rig costing $380,000 was burnt to the ground," says the affidavit, signed by Christopher Cainsford-Betty, a staff operations geophysicist with SWN Resources.
The affidavit says that as a direct result of protests, theft and damage, SWN Resources halted operations in August and for most of September of this year.
SWN Resources did not return requests for comment Friday.
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