A Cape Breton woman arrested at a shale gas protest in Moncton was convicted Tuesday of obstructing police. Madonna Annie Bernard, 37, stood trial recently in Moncton provincial court on a charge of obstructing the RCMP by giving a false name. Judge Jolene Richard gave her guilty verdict on Tuesday.
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Bernard was not in court for the decision because she lives in Cape Breton and doesn’t have a driver’s licence. She was represented by defence lawyer Alison Menard, and Maurice Blanchard was the Crown prosecutor. Sentencing was set for May 11.
The judge related the facts of the case while giving her decision. The incident occurred Nov. 26, 2013, during a protest outside a compound in Caledonia Industrial Estates, just north of the Trans-Canada Highway. SWN Resources Canada equipment was being stored in the compound as part of that company’s shale gas exploration in New Brunswick.
Several protesters were outside the compound, expressing their disagreement with fracking. The RCMP were also present, observing the protest to make sure no one violated the conditions of a Court of Queen’s Bench order designed to keep protesters from interfering with the company or its work.
Richard said testimony given during the trial indicated the protest was peaceful and lawful until some protesters blocked the gate. Police asked them to move away and they did. Soon, Bernard and others blocked the gate again and she hung a banner on it that she made with her children, welcoming the company to Mi’kmaq territory. She testified during the trial that she believed the exploration would lead to environmental harm, and she was there to pray for the land and water.
Bernard knelt to pray with her smudge bundle and eagle feather and police told her she had to remove the banner and move back from the gate. She admitted she was aware of the court order but wouldn’t move for police, ignored their instructions and continued praying. When police went to arrest her, she wouldn’t let herself be handcuffed and was screaming at the officers, saying she was there to protect the environment. Bernard told the court she didn’t want to let go of her eagle feather to be handcuffed.
Once she was finally in the car, she gave the Mounties her spiritual name and she repeated it again at the police station. They finally found the Bernard name on a piece of identification. The defence argued during the trial that, to Bernard, her spiritual name was a legitimate name to give police officers. They said she didn’t violate the injunction, so police didn’t have the right to arrest her.
Richard disagreed, ruling the protester was in clear violation of the court injunction and the Bernard name was on all her ID. “This name would constitute her “legal name,” said Richard.”