(Mi’kmaq Warriors Germaine Breau and Aaron Francis were sentenced to 15 months. Photo courtesy of Warrior Publications.)
By Trina Roache
APTN National News
HALIFAX–There were mixed emotions for supporters of two Mi’kmaq men sentenced for their part in anti-fracking protests last year.
The two dozen people who gathered in a Moncton courtroom hoped Aaron Francis and Germaine Breau would walk free Tuesday.
The two Mi’kmaq Warriors, however, were sentenced to 15 months each.
The two young men were arrested when assault rifle-wielding, camouflaged and black-clad tactical RCMP unit members descended on a Mi’kmaq warrior camp on October 17, 2014, in Rexton, NB. The camp was blocking exploration vehicles owned by a Houston-headquartered firm searching for shale gas in the region.
The early morning raid lead to a day of violent clashes between Mi’kmaq protesters and police. Forty people were arrested that day. Breau and Francis faced the most serious charges, including assault, obstruction and firearms offences.
They pleaded guilty to some of the lesser charges. At their May trial, RCMP officers testified that Breau and Francis both handled a shotgun. Video taken by RCMP showed the chaotic and tense dynamic as Mi’kmaq Warriors and police along with the arrests.
New Brunswick Judge Leslie Jackson found them not guilty of throwing Molotov cocktails. Francis, however, was found guilty of possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose. Breau was found guilty of pointing a gun at five separate police officers.
Defence lawyer Allison Menard argued the events of that day should be viewed from an Indigenous perspective. Breau and Francis were part of a larger movement involving members of the Mi’kmaq Nation whose goal was to protect the land and water.
The Mi’kmaq led protests last year against SWN Resources Canada, the company exploring for shale gas in Kent County, NB. Though the seismic testing happened beyond the boundaries of Elsipogtog First Nation, the Mi’kmaq said Peace and Friendship Treaties prove they never ceded land. Many of the protesters referred to themselves as caretakers of the land and water.
The Crown argued that firearms offences were serious and a sentence should act as a deterrent to others. Prosecutors asked for five year sentences for Breau and Francis each.
In her sentencing, Jackson said he took certain considerations into account, largely based on the Gladue reports submitted for each offender. Gladue reports help paint a picture of Aboriginal offenders, who are over-represented in Canadian prisons.
For both Breau and Francis, the Gladue reports showed a troubled upbringing. The judge noted some of the “systemic factors fit” for the two, including a history of drug use and prior run-ins with police. The judge said it was relevant that the offences were committed against a backdrop of a larger community concern over water.”
“It is never acceptable to point a gun at police officers,” said Jackson, during the sentencing.
The sentence handed to Germaine Breau fell short of the Crown’s request for five years.
After spending the last ten months in jail, Breau and Francis were both sentenced to 15 months. They were each given credit to roughly fourteen months.
As sheriffs lead Breau and Francis away, supporters in the courtroom broke into applause. Outside, there were mixed emotions.
“Being a warrior myself, my two warriors are in there, it breaks my heart. But my heart is coming up, you know? They’re coming out and that’s a good thing. I’m happy for that,” said Jason Augustine, from Elsipogtog.
Debbie Cyr took part in the protests last year. She says it was important to come to court to show her gratitude. She sees Breau and Francis as protectors.
“I was really glad that the judge took the Gladue report into consideration,” said Cyr. “They’re going to be coming home to their families and then healing can begin.”
Breau and Francis will be free in a few weeks. Neither are allowed to own a gun for at least 10 years. While neither can go near any future protests against fracking, Augustine says, “I know there are still going to be people who will stand up and fight for saving our water.”
SWN Resources Canada is expected to drill test wells for shale gas in 2015.