A Boston College assistant professor faces charges in Canada after he allegedly threatened to bomb ore mines during a geological research trip with five students to remote Labrador earlier this month, officials said.
Dominic Papineau, 35, has been suspended by the university pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings against him in Canada, BC spokesman Jack Dunn said.
In addition to threatening to damage property, Papineau also faces charges of possessing a hunting rifle without proper permits and possessing a “small quantity” of marijuana, Quebec authorities said.
In a phone interview Monday, Papineau, who said he is now back in Boston, said he is “convinced” that he will be “fully exonerated of the charges.”
“It’s totally bogus,” he said. “The idea of blowing up the mine, I was saying that as a joke. I was kidding. Someone misinterpreted what I said … I said a bad thing at the wrong time.”
Papineau said the gun he had was not loaded, that he only had it for protection from wildlife and that he had not realized the permits required to carry guns in Canada have changed since he last lived there more than a decade ago.
Papineau, a native of Montreal who joined BC’s faculty in Jan. 2011, was traveling with two graduate students and two undergraduates from BC, along with a student from another school, to the McGill University Subarctic Research Station in northern Quebec, near its border with Labrador, Dunn said.
On July 3, during the multi-day field expedition, Papineau was arrested by the Quebec Provincial Police, Rene Verret, spokesman for the province's public prosecution office, said by phone Monday.
He said Papineau was among a group protesting a government-led project called Plan Nord, which calls for investing $80 billion of public and private funds to develop the area over the next 25 years.
“The students were worrying about his condition,” Verret said, citing police and court documents. “He is accused of threatening to bomb or damage mines in northern Quebec.”
Papineau said he and members of two aboriginal tribes from Schefferville were among those protesting.
He said he opposes how mines have been reopened there in the past year or so by private companies, decades after previous government-run mining operations shut down.
“We need to take the natural resources out of the ground and the area needs to be developed,” he said. “But the money should benefit the people,” either directly or through the government.
He said private mining companies maximize profits by exploiting neighboring communities, workers, natural resources and environmental and human health, while giving nothing back.
“All this money [from private companies] goes to Wall Street, not the people,” he added. “These people out there are so unfortunate. They have so little.”
At a court appearance on July 4, a judge released Papineau on conditions that Verret said he did not immediately know. Verret said the professor is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 5, at which time he is expected to be ordered to enter a plea.
The research station where Papineau and the students were staying is in Schefferville, a remote town established in the mid-1950s by ore mining companies. Papineau’s research work includes collecting geological samples that contain carbon remains, such as iron ore, Dunn said. The carbon is studied for its helpful properties that can reveal information about previous life on earth.
After Papineau’s arrest, a veteran faculty member from BC's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences traveled to Canada to help students return home.
“Because train rides from Schefferville to Montreal only occur twice per week, the students continued to do geological research at the McGill research station,” while they waited for the faculty member to meet them, Dunn said.
The students returned from their trip on July 8, he said.
Papineau has no prior criminal record in Canada, authorities said.
"By all accounts, his erratic behavior is uncharacteristic of him,” Dunn said.
According to Papineau’s website, he has done field research in Canada and other parts of the world. Dunn said that the professor took some Boston College students on a similar trip last summer that went “without incident.”
According to a profile page on BC's website, Papineau has previously worked as a visiting scientist, research associate and postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Geophysical Laboratory.
He also worked as a research assistant at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he received a doctorate degree, the website said. He earned a bachelor's from McGill University.
E-mail Matt Rocheleau at email@example.com.
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