A man who says he was unjustly and forcefully removed from a public meeting about a proposed gold mine is suing officials with the company and the RCMP officer who arrested him.
A lawyer on behalf of John Perkins filed papers in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on Tuesday.
The lawsuit names Atlantic Gold Mining N.S. Corp., Terry Moser, Dustin O’Leary, Maryse Belanger, RCMP Const. Justin Greene and the Attorney General of Canada as defendants.
Perkins was at a public meeting at the Sherbrooke Fire Hall on May 23 to hear about Atlantic Gold’s proposed gold mine in the area.
After attending the first session, where he notes he asked company officials critical but respectful questions, he stayed for a second session.
No investigation conducted: claim
In his statement of claim, Perkins said he was told by Mosher, the company’s security manager, that he had to leave and that if he did not, the RCMP would be called. He said Mosher did not identify himself.
Perkins stayed, and not long after, he alleges Belanger, the company’s president, instructed Mosher to call 911 and report a disturbance.
Perkins said this resulted in a “false and malicious” 911 call. When Greene arrived, it was clear there was no disturbance, yet the claim said Mosher pointed out Perkins to Greene.
“Greene chose not to conduct any investigation at all and instead approached John and told him to leave the fire hall,” the claim said.
When Perkins asked why he had to leave a public meeting, the claim said Greene did not answer his questions and instead started pushing him toward the exit.
The claim said he was forcefully lifted and pushed out, and that Mosher assisted Greene in that effort.
Incident captured on video
Perkins was pushed against a wall, onto a table and then dragged to the floor by Greene, who pinned him down and handcuffed him, the claim said. It said Greene ignored Perkins’s complaints about how tight the handcuffs were applied.
The incident was captured on video and widely shared on the internet.
The claim alleges Perkins was then taken to a jail cell in Sherbrooke, all before he was advised of his charter rights, and left there for several hours before being released without charges.
The following day, O’Leary, the company’s communications director, issued a news release that implied Perkins was “confrontational, belligerent and disrespectful” at the meeting, which is what led to the arrest, the claim said.
The statement was “false and malicious,” according to the claim.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
At a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday to announce the legal action, Perkins said the incident left him feeling “humiliated, powerless and scared.”
“Now I am worried about the chilling effect my treatment by Atlantic Gold and the RCMP will have on other citizens who participate in public meetings or public debate, especially those who seek to protect the environment,” he said.
Perkins filed a complaint with the RCMP in June. His lawyer, Brian Hebert, said he’s yet to received an update following the initial contact.
“As far as we know, the process is ongoing,'” said Hebert.
The RCMP have confirmed a complaint was received.
Perkins said he can only presume he was targeted because the company didn’t like the questions he was asking at the first meeting.
“They called the RCMP to silence me, to prevent me from asking any critical questions that would be heard by fellow Nova Scotians attending the meeting,” said Perkins.
Groups raise concerns
Lisa Mitchell, of the East Coast Environmental Law Association, said with Atlantic gold proposing to open three gold mines in the province to go along with one it already operates, the public has a right to ask questions.
“It is critical that any person who wishes to participate in public engagement is able to do so in an atmosphere that is open, accessible and safe,” said Mitchell. “John Perkins was not given that opportunity.”
Scott Beaver, president of the non-profit group the St. Mary’s River Association, said the incident in May has left some people worried about voicing concerns at or even attending future public meetings.
He said it only served to further erode any trust that existed between community members and the company.
“We need people to feel safe to come out and speak plainly and gather the information that we need,” said Beaver.
“People need to know what’s going on here.”
Perkins is suing for special, general, aggravated and punitive damages, as well as legal costs.
He said the lawsuit also provides a chance to examine what happened and potentially change the way such projects are undertaken in the province.
The defendants have yet to be served.
The company and the RCMP did not immediately return requests for comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.