SHERBROOKE – Questions are being raised following the arrest of a man at an information session hosted by Atlantic Gold in Sherbrooke last Thursday, May 23. Two sessions were held at the Sherbrooke Fire Hall that day to discuss and answer questions about the company’s approach to tailings management facilities, in light of its plans for an open pit gold mine at nearby Cochrane Hill.
An audience member, 68-year-old John Perkins of Colchester County, was arrested for obstruction and trespassing at the beginning of the second session. The arrest was recorded on video and made available on social media platforms, prompting many to question the reason for the arrest and the amount of force used by the responding RCMP officer.
The next afternoon Atlantic Gold issued a media statement about the incident, saying it had “the right to allow or not allow individuals to enter the meetings or ask individuals to leave.”
The company says the “individual’s conduct led the Atlantic Gold’s on-site security officer to have concerns.” According to the statement, “the Atlantic Gold security team member informed this person that they were being asked to leave the evening meeting. This individual had attended the same session earlier in the day and had an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers at that time.
“After three polite requests to leave the meeting, the individual was informed that the RCMP would be called to escort them from the premises,” the statement says. “An RCMP officer then invited the individual to leave the building for a discussion, however, this person refused and became confrontational with the officers and was subsequently taken into custody and charged with trespassing and obstruction. Atlantic Gold later asked that the person be released without charges.”
Perkins, a member of Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia, disputes this interpretation of events. In an interview with The Journal on Friday, Perkins said he has no idea what conduct they are referring to and no company representative told him they had concerns about his behaviour.
When asked via email about the specific conduct being referenced in the press release, Atlantic Gold's Communication Manager Dustin O’Leary said he was “not able to discuss the specifics around Atlantic Gold security measures.”
An RCMP press release about the arrest said Sherbrooke RCMP responded to a 911 call at 5 p.m. Thursday, “indicating police assistance was required at a public meeting due to several persons causing a disturbance. Despite repeated warnings to leave, the man refused and then resisted the officer’s attempt to arrest. The man was eventually controlled, handcuffed and later released without charge.”
Again, Perkins disputes that any disturbance was caused by him. “I have no memory and the people I have spoken to have no memory of anything that might have upset Atlantic Gold. There was stuff that happened in the first session by other people that might have upset them, but I certainly didn't do anything.
“All I can think is that I annoyed them with my questions. They were completely civil and they were within the discourse and discussion that was happening in the room. There was no raised voices. I think they were quite even tempered. I think they took exception to it and wanted me gone,” he said of Atlantic Gold's motivation behind the call for police assistance.
The Journal asked if Atlantic Gold's videos of the information sessions would be released to media. O'Leary responded via email that the company kept its “camera trained on the front of the meeting room and the panel the entire time of both meetings to ensure we were adhering to privacy laws.”
Kris Hunter, program director for the Atlantic Salmon Federation for Nova Scotia and P.E.I., came to Sherbrooke on Thursday to attend the information session and was at the location approximately 15 minutes before the 5 p.m session began. He told The Journal that he saw Perkins and several others in the parking lot before the meeting and they were standing in a small group talking. “That's not being a disturbance,” he said, adding his view that there was nothing to justify what happened next.
Hunter said he was seated near the front of the meeting when the RCMP arrived to arrest Perkins. He described the actions of the police as “shocking,” adding that he has attended many similar meetings over the years and had never before seen an incident like this.
Perkins was assessed at hospital after his release from RCMP custody. He said he had bruises, some nerve damage in his left hand and a sprain.
When asked if he would be laying a complaint against the RCMP Perkins said, “I don't know, as you can maybe appreciate -- it is a little surreal-- to be sitting peacefully in a public venue, at a public meeting and be brutally attacked.
“I am just trying to recover and process all of that. I have been getting advice from various quarters that say I should take action. But I have no idea what that might be or when it would happen but I am certainly going to consider the various options that I might have — the primary motivation being to do what I can, in result of this situation, to the benefit of Nova Scotians. And if we can expose this type of behaviour and get to the root of understanding how and why it happened, we might be able to prevent things like this from happening in the future.”