FORT SASKATCHEWAN — The Alberta government has done an abrupt about-face and has pulled armed sheriffs from a contentious regulatory hearing for a proposed bitumen upgrader northeast of Fort Saskatchewan.
The Solicitor General’s Department had said the sheriffs were brought in to ensure everyone involved felt safe in sharing their views.
But the armed presence, along with plain-clothes security officers who were seen filming people entering the building, led opponents of the development to accuse the Energy Resources Conservation Board of resorting to extreme tactics.
Resident Anne Brown says she asked the security guards why they were filming people and was told they were going to be giving the videotape to their employer.
A spokeswoman for the French company Total, which wants to build the upgrader, says the company did not know videotaping was taking place.
Elizabeth Cordeau-Chatelian says the security officials hired by the company were not given permission to film protesters.
“We have not seen it,” she said. “We have no use for it. And we’ve asked that the footage be destroyed and we’ve had confirmation that it has been destroyed.“
As for the armed sheriffs, Solicitor General Frank Oberle said Thursday they were no longer necessary because the hearings have been peaceful.
“If anyone there felt intimidated by the presence of sheriffs I apologize,” said Oberle. “The fact of the matter is they’re there to keep the peace and to ensure that everybody that attends one of these meetings has an opportunity for input.”
Farmer Bill Bocock isn’t buying it.
“It strikes me as being ludicrous,” he said. “We’re peace-loving citizens just trying to protect our rights.”
Some residents who live 20 kilometres away or across the river from the proposed upgrader, which will set on land adjacent to an existing Shell upgrader, have complained they have night been given the right by the ERCB to speak at the hearing.
ERCB officials have said they live too far away from the project.
The residents say they have health concerns because although they may not live next door, they use the same water and breath the same air as those who do. Total has said the health effects from the upgrader would be “negligible.”
The energy board has the final say in approving oilsands projects. It has already approved five upgraders in the province. The next two weeks have been set aside for the public hearing and the board will make its decision within 90 days of its conclusion.