RCMP now investigating theft complaint against Nalcor
© Submitted photo
Jim Learning (left) and John Learning (right) pose next to their Muskrat Falls protest sign on Saturday, after putting it back to its original spot.
James (Jim) Learning has filed an official complaint with the RCMP in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, accusing Nalcor of stealing a protest sign.
The NunatuKavut elder filed the complaint on Monday.
The sign, which was located across from the Muskrat Falls work site entrance, was posted in October.
Corporal Rick Mills, Labrador District Media Liaison, confirmed the RCMP received the complaint and a member of the force will be assigned to look into the allegations.
The controversy started late last week when Nalcor removed the anti-Muskrat Falls project sign, which reads, "STOP MUSKRAT FALLS PROJECT, DEATH OF 8 RIVERS, TRAMPLED RIGHTS, MAKE WORK PROJECT, CORPORATE WELFARE."
In an email to the Labradorian on Friday, Gilbert Bennett admitted Nalcor had “concerns” about the sign and removed it. But they soon realized that the decision was “not appropriate” and put the sign back in place.
Jim was one of several people who helped make the sign that was removed. He says that he made an official complaint to the RCMP to send a message that Nalcor must be kept in check.
“For me, it’s to keep the story alive; that these people are not above reports… I mean, today (it’s) your sign, tomorrow your house,” says Jim.
“That kind of authority should not be unfettered.”
On Dec. 13, 2012, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador granted Nalcor a permanent injunction against the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC). Part of the injunction prevents anybody from protesting within 50 metres of the Muskrat Falls work site.
The court also ordered that Nalcor construct a “safety zone” near the site where people can lawfully assemble and protest. It is within this area that the protest sign in question was erected in October.
The court order clearly states that the use of signage for the purpose of protest is allowed within the safety zone.
“Nalcor is to construct forthwith a safety zone (the “Safety Zone”) adjacent to the intersection of the Caroline Brook Forestry Access Road and the Trans Labrador Highway,” reads the order, which is posted on a sign in the safety zone.
“Nalcor is to maintain the Safety Zone, including providing snow clearing.”
“The Respondents, and others, may use the Safety Zone to lawfully assemble and disseminate by sign or in person any information concerning a claim to aboriginal rights or a position as it relates to the Muskrat Falls Generation Project.”
Sign put back
After hearing that Nalcor put the sign back, Jim and his brother, John, drove to the safety zone to check it out for themselves. They were surprised to see that the sign was not put back in its original spot.
When the sign was erected in October, it stood near the entrance of the clearing, in clear view for anyone driving past on the Trans Labrador Highway.
Now, the sign was placed at the back of the cleared lot, and lower to the ground than before.
The next afternoon, the two men, along with a friend, went back to the area with a set of tools and put the sign its original spot.
“That sign was placed way to the back of the lot, nobody would actually see it, traveling from any direction,” said John.
“So we said that’s where the sign belonged — out front, and that’s where it had to be to be seen at all.”
Jim says the controversy over the sign has only motivated him to keep going with his activism. He and other NunatuKavut members are currently working on a second sign to be put up in the lot.
“The message is pertinent, the message is important. And the fact that it’s gotten through to them, it go their goat, means that I’m getting through to them…so keep it going,” says Jim.
“I think that (the new sign) is going to deal with numbers like costs, daily costs and such, stuff that people can remember and put their finger on immediately.”
The Labradorian made a request to interview Gilbert Bennett, Vice President of the Lower Churchill project, but a Nalcor Representative said that Bennett would be unavailable for comment.