The Muskrat Falls Inquiry hearings were on pause Thursday, as the venue for hearings was not available and lawyers involved were instead taken on a tour of the hydroelectric project site.
Meanwhile, Courtroom No. 2 at Supreme Court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was packed tight, as a civil case was called involving 18 different people — members of the Labrador Land Protectors and Grand Riverkeeper Labrador and supporters, who continue to stand in opposition to the project.
The court case is really a collection of cases. It involves different dates, each with allegations of contempt, of people entering the area of Nalcor Energy’s hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls in breach of a court-ordered injunction.
The number of accused actually dropped to 17 at the start of the day’s proceedings, as Nalcor Energy attorney Chris King advised three cases tied to dates in November 2016 were not being pursued. Some of the people involved face more than one accusation.
In brief opening remarks, King said the corporation is required to bring forward any evidence of breaches of the injunction, including the evidence available from October 22, 2016, when it’s undisputed that a group of Labradorians walked onto the main construction site in protest of the project.
The issue now is who is being identified to the court.
Video originally captured and live-streamed online by reporter Justin Brake of The Independent was played in court in the afternoon as evidence. It was periodically paused and witness Scott Morrison, “emergency response and security co-ordinator” for the Lower Churchill Project (a.k.a. the Muskrat Falls project), identified faces on the screen.
He proceeded to match them where he could to faces in the courtroom.
“That’s Marjorie Flowers there,” he said at one point.
“That gentleman right there is Mr. Kirk Lethbridge,” he said at another.
Some people were seeing parts of The Independent’s video for the first time, while others had previously watched it only when it was first webcast, nearly two years ago. There were smiles at times in the room, in reaction to jokes from the captured voices, and chants of “Make Muskrat Right!”
The civil proceedings are ongoing, with more video to be viewed and further court dates scheduled in September and October.
The accused are being represented by Mark Gruchy, who had worked with King to find a way the court might deal with the cases called as efficiently as possible. That includes not playing the video over and over, and providing some relief in the schedule for the accused.
But there’s still frustration with the process.
“We would much rather be somewhere else than sitting in court. It’s been two years since all of this has happened,” said Jacinda Beals, who was one of the individuals subject of a dismissed charge early in the day.
“I just know that it’s chucked out. One of the three charges. I have no idea why,” she said.
Beals faces a mix of criminal and civil proceedings.
“It just seems surreal,” she said. “We don’t belong here.”
A long-time opponent of the project, Eldred Davis, was at the courthouse on Thursday in support. He was also at the public hearings of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre earlier in the week.
Davis said the main concerns of all Labrador Land Protectors and Grand Riverkeeper Labrador members regarding the project — loss of access to wild foods such as fish, birds and seals, and methylmercury contamination of food sources — remain unaddressed in their minds.
A spike in protest actions in the fall of 2016 ended with a special meeting and agreement between the provincial government and Indigenous governments, for an independent panel to review the key issues being raised. A later recommendation for the removal of more organic material from the reservoir area of the hydroelectric dam failed to gain unanimous support from the governments involved, something the province has pointed to when asked why it has not pursued the additional work at the reservoir.
“I suppose we were naïve,” Davis said. “We took it in good faith that something would be done, and nothing was done. Just wordplay. That’s all.”