Friday, 12 December 2008

Ontario Supreme Court backs aboriginal rights

Robert Lovelace and his son River: from Queen's University Journal
In February, 2008 Justice Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court sentenced Robert Lovelace, former Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, to 6 months in jail because he refused to end his peaceful protest against uranium exploration on Algonquin land. The government of Ontario had refused to consult with the Algonquins before approving the aggressive exploration program in eastern Ontario. In addition to jail, Lovelace was fined $25,000, his community was fined $10,000 and Chief Paula Sherman $15,000. Ignoring native arguments about government obligation to consult, the lower court judge said the only thing he was interested in was enforcing the rights of the mining company, and jailed protesters for contempt.

A few weeks after Lovelace was jailed, six leaders of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwg (KI) were sentenced on contempt charges for their nonviolent protest against drilling for platinum on their traditional lands.

On May 28, 2008 the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the sentences and freed Lovelace and the KI 6. In their decision the Court blamed Ontario’s outmoded Mining Act, which allows mining companies to conduct aggressive exploration, including removing trees, blasting, drilling, trenching and the construction of roads on crown land (including that covered by native claims), without consultations or environmental assessment, rapped the government for using police and court orders (a form of SLAPP) while ignoring repeated requests by the Algonquins for consultation. It pointed to numerous Supreme Court of Canada decisions which require governments to consult.

The mining company, Frontenac Ventures Corporation, applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal, arguing that the Court of Appeal’s decision amounts to a “license to blockade”. The SCC has now dismissed Frontenac’s appeal, with costs. Unscrupulous companies will be no longer be able to hide behind "law and order" while governments do their dirty work.

“This is an important victory for civil rights and the rule of law” said Robert Lovelace. “The government will no longer be able to ignore its legal responsibilities while we are jailed for trying to uphold the law."

-- Ardoch Algonquin First Nation press release 6 Dec 08, via Quaker Aboriginal Affairs Committee. See our previous posts 27 Dec 07, 6 Mar 08, 22 Oct 08.

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