Thursday, August 16, 2007

The feds make bad soup

Plight of Afghan prisoners echoes Chief Rickard case

George Beaver

Thursday, August 16, 2007 - 07:00

Local News - The Expositor's recent front page story, "Afghan detainees case secret," was not just about the prisoners who were turned over to the Afghans allegedly to be tortured.

It also was about the unusual provisions of the Canadian Evidence Act, which forbade anyone to reveal that a court application to release documents had even been made.

Under these provisions, the court registry must keep these files separate from the other court files and not tell anyone about them. This sets up a great way for the prime minister or any other minister to deny that someone had made an application to challenge the refusal of the federal government to release certain records related to the handling of suspected Taliban prisoners.

This repressive provision reminded me of a similar provision in the Indian Act.

In the 1920s and 1930s, it was illegal for Indians to take the federal government to court or even to collect money in order to pay a lawyer to sue the government.

This loophole in the legal system led to injustice in many forms to a lot of First Nations people.

An example is what happened to the Tuscarora Chief Clinton Rickard. In 1928, Chief Rickard got the U.S. Congress to pass a bill reaffirming the Jay Treaty and supporting Canadian-born aboriginal people's right to cross the border.

This was especially important to the Six Nations people, who have relatives on both sides of the border.

In 1930, Chief Rickard was asked by the Algonquin Chiefs to come to their first Grand Council at Maniwaki, Que. Sixteen Algonquins had taken part in the first Border Crossing Celebration in 1928 at Niagara Falls.

falsely charged

At Maniwaki, Chief Rickard made two speeches. In one he talked about the type of education given at the Tuscarora reservation.

He noted that they had no more than half an hour of religious instruction in any one day.

The commissioner of education thought this was a good idea and said he was issuing similar orders to the schools in his charge.

The Algonquins were pleased with his visit and invited him back to the Second Grand Council the next year.

In 1931, as the chief and his first wife walked about taking pictures before the first session at which he was scheduled to speak, he saw two men also taking pictures.

During intermission, they came up and asked the chief if he would like to go on a sightseeing tour.

They did not tell him they were undercover RCMP officers. When he and his wife agreed, they were driven by car straight to the local Indian agent's office and shown an arrest warrant already prepared for him.

He was falsely charged under Section 141 of the Indian Act with soliciting money at Barriere, Que., between April 16, 1931, and Sept. 15, 1931, to sue the Canadian government.

He had only arrived in Quebec on Sept. 14, 1931, and had never been to Barriere, which was north of Maniwaki.

He was immediately thrown into jail and the next day was taken to Hull, Que., 136 kilometres away. He was constantly interrogated. He was not allowed to see his wife or brother and not allowed to write or call anyone.

After six days of refusing to plead guilty to the false charge, he was fed soup, which made him violently ill.

For four days he lay ill without medical care.

At last, he was taken before a judge and released on his own recognizance. He was so sick he could hardly walk.

This shameful episode is recounted in the book Fighting Tuscarora, The Autobiography of Chief Clinton Rickard, edited by Professor Barbara Graymont, head of the Department of History and Economics at Nyack College, Nyack, N.Y.

The plaintiff in this strange case, which had no hearing and no trial, was later shown to be the Department of Indian Affairs.

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