The Saint Croix Courier

St. Stephen, NB

2006 July 25

Tempers rise on island


GRAND MANAN - Tempers flared in the normally quiet village of Castalia in the early hours of Saturday morning with people throwing rocks, guns being fired and a house set on fire.

More RCMP officers are headed to the island this week to join the four-man detachment - although one officer is currently on vacation - and Sgt. Greg MacAvoy said Monday they are hoping to prevent any further incidents between the two opposing factions involved.

"We are trying to keep our eyes and ears open and talking to people. If we get word that something is going to happen we will try to nip it in the bud. We are sending a couple of people over there to help bolster (Cpl.) Ron Smith."

The incident began around 2 a.m. Saturday. Sgt. MacAvoy said there were reports that there was shooting and one vehicle at the scene does have significant bullet holes in it, but this was over by the time officers arrived.

He said it appears some off-island people, who are regular visitors to Grand Manan, arrived at a house on Cedar Street Friday evening, and some of the local residents started to gather in another residence across the street.

"As the evening wore on, taunts were exchanged back and forth. Our first call was that someone had heard shots being fired. There was rock throwing, a lot of shoving and fist fights then, all of a sudden, a house goes up in flames. Who set it, and by what means, we are hoping to find out. It does not look like it was accidental."

The fire department was called, said Sgt. MacAvoy, but the problem was they could not get through to fight the fire, and rocks were thrown at the fire truck. He said Cpl. Smith managed to calm the crowd down enough so that the truck could eventually get to the house.

At that point, he said, there was not a lot of damage done to the house, and the police tried to convince the visitors to go to the dock and get in line for the first ferry back to the mainland the next morning.

After they left, Sgt. MacAvoy said, the fire started up again and the fire trucks came back, but this time the blaze consumed the house, and it is now uninhabitable.

"There was more pushing and shoving and the crowd was generally out of control. Things calmed down with the light of day and the off-island folks left on the first boat."

Sgt. MacAvoy said they estimate there were between 40 and 50 people involved in the melee. He said they have heard that people were injured during the incident, but nobody went to the local hospital for treatment, so they don't know if this is factual or just rumour.

He said the three RCMP officers spent most of the night dealing with the incident, but the departure of the ferry with the off islanders on board seemed to take the momentum out of it. However, he thought there were some islanders who are closely associated with the visitors.

"I think the house belongs to someone from the island, but the vehicle that was damaged was not owned by a resident," said Sgt. MacAvoy, who noted that another vehicle that was damaged recently in that area was owned by a Saint John resident.

The whole incident is under investigation by the RCMP, and he said they are trying to talk to as many people as possible. Sgt. MacAvoy said it is a tense situation, and they are hoping things will not flare up again.

"We are sending a couple more people over there in the next few days to see if we can get some more solid information to act on so we can try to stay on top of it and try to pick up word if something is brewing. If more troops are being brought over because of the house burning, we can stop them at the ferry landing.

"I am not sure what is going to fix it. Maybe we can fix it from the mainland. We are putting extra police on the island and doing what we can.

"Maybe some cooler heads will prevail. I am going to try for a couple more officers over there but we are in the middle of summer vacations."

As yet, nobody has been charged, said Sgt. MacAvoy, until they can come up with some specifics of what people saw and heard. He said they are investigating the incident now to see if charges will be laid.

"The policemen were jostled as they tried to keep the two groups separate and there was a fair amount of rock throwing.

"There may be some other things you can do as a community if you don't want those in your community resorting to violence. Perhaps we can try to establish a dialogue and bring in some partners."

This is the height of the tourism season for Grand Manan, and Mayor Dennis Greene doesn't want visitors to be put off by the adverse publicity this has garnered for the island.

"This is a great place to visit and we wouldn't want anybody to stop coming because of this. The situation is being dealt with and we are not used to this sort of thing.

"I am a firm believer that the RCMP has a contingency plan and meanwhile life is going on here the same as always. We continue to be open for tourism."


© 2006 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.

The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB