Monday, July 7, 2008

KI6 and Bob Lovelace "Fully Vindicated"

The leaders of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) have won an appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal in regards to their recent jail sentences.

Donny Morris, Chief of KI, Bob Lovelace, retired Chief of Ardoch and their legal counsel Chris Reid, have just circulated a press release announcing the victory.

Morris, Lovelace and five other leaders from KI were sentenced to six months in jail earlier this year. In similar cases, all were put there for disobeying court orders that allowed for prospecting on traditional lands. Morris chose to obey Algonquin law to protect the land around Ardoch. The KI6 made a similar decision.

The press release said,

In both cases, Ontario’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Michael Bryant, instructed Ontario’s lawyers to support the mining companies in seeking the harshest possible punishment for our “disobedience” of Ontario’s laws. The government made it clear at every step of the legal proceedings that their only priority is to support the 19th century Mining Act which states that mining is always the best use of land, and any peaceful protesters who oppose mining should expect jail and crippling fines.”

While the seven leaders were released on May 28, it was only today that the reasons that their release was made known. The Court had this to say:

Where a requested injunction is intended to create ‘a protest-free zone’ for contentious private activity that affects asserted aboriginal or treaty rights, the court must be very careful to ensure that, in the context of the dispute before it, the Crown has fully and faithfully discharged its duty to consult with the affected First Nations. The court must further be satisfied that every effort has been exhausted to obtain a negotiated or legislated solution to the dispute before it. Good faith on both sides is required in this process”

At the heart of this issue is Ontario’s colonial approach to First Nations’ rights over traditional land. While these rights are constitutionally allowed, they are in direct opposition to the Mining Act, which allows prospectors onto any land, regardless of ‘ownership’, as long as it has the approval of the Provincial government.

Jailing these leaders was an embarrassment to the province of Ontario. With Steven Truscott being awarded $6.5 million for the wrongful conviction that stole his youth, Ontarians are again reminded that our justice system needs to be changed if justice is indeed going to be served. And, nearly 50 years after one innocent man’s journey for justice has finished, a very different group of seven have been vindicated for another wrongful conviction.

When will the Government of Ontario learn?

Link: YouTube coverage of the National Day of Action in Toronto

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