Tuesday, August 21, 2007

With an election looming what will McGuinty do if the Algonquins refuse to leave?

Sides explore mine ruling; Lawyers seek clarity on edict over standoff

Rob Tripp

Tuesday, August 21, 2007 - 00:00

Local News - A judge has ordered an end to a two-month-old native occupation that has prevented a prospecting company from digging for uranium on land near Sharbot Lake, according to a lawyer for the firm.

"The first thing that his honour ordered is for the occupation to cease, I mean that's what I read, and then that only certain people [be] allowed on the property and only under certain conditions," said Neal Smitheman, who represents Frontenac Ventures Corporation. The company wants to drill samples to see if it's feasible to operate a uranium mine on land roughly 60 kilometres north of Kingston. The site includes private property and Crown land.

Two native groups, the Ardoch Algonquins and the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations, have occupied the site and blocked the firm, claiming the land is part of disputed territory subject to ongoing land claim negotiations.

They also cite concerns about environmental damage and damage to native heritage.

Frontenac Ventures went to court, seeking an injunction to stop the occupation and also seeking millions in damages from the protesters. Last week, a Superior Court judge in Kingston issued a 20-page interim decision.

"Under no circumstances shall there be entry onto the subject property by anyone else other than an owner with a valid registered deed," Justice Gordon Thomson wrote.

The decision also orders the removal of all "signs, vehicles, buildings and other paraphernalia erected" there by any of the parties to the court case since July 1, 2007.

The parties can't agree how to interpret the decision, so they'll be back in court Thursday.

"It's somewhat vague in parts and nobody's exactly sure what it means," Chris Reid, a Toronto lawyer acting for the Ardoch First Nation, said in an interview yesterday.

Reid believes the decision does not order an end to the occupation. "Nowhere does the order say to the OPP, 'This is an illegal demonstration, you should arrest these people,' " he said.

Smitheman said the OPP, who have been keeping watch over the standoff, have taken the position that it's not clear what the judge meant.

"So they're not about to agree to an order, let alone enforcing an order, until that can be clarified," Smitheman said. "They are, I suppose, approaching with extreme caution."

The lawyers agree that the judge ordered that an archeologist be brought onto the property to conduct an investigation.

The sides can't agree on who chooses the archeologist and who pays. The company offered to appear at the property with an archeologist yesterday, Reid said, but his clients weren't consulted about the person hired.

"No real steps have been taken since then, it's safe to say," he said.

The dispute may become more complicated this week because the native groups are expected to appear in court and tell the judge they will refuse to participate in the legal proceedings.

The groups sent a three-page letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty last week, asking him to intervene and help broker a deal.

In the letter, they state that they appreciate the challenge the court faces, but the adversarial system, contrary to traditional Algonquin-style dispute resolution, damages the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown.

"While we respect the Ontario Court system and the rule of law, we cannot inure to the Court in this case and will not be proceeding any further with the Court process as it relates to Frontenac Venture's motion for an injunction against us," states the letter, signed by Doreen Davis, chief of the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation and Paula Sherman, co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation.

"There's been no response yet to that letter," Reid said.

A copy of the letter was filed with the court.

"I don't know what the judge's response will be to me standing up and saying, with all due respect, we're not participating any further in this," Reid said.

Clarifying the judge's order may be irrelevant, he said.

"This occupation is going to remain unless there's a negotiated agreement," Reid said.

In an interview last week, McGuinty said the situation may also involve the federal government.

"If we have a role to play, we will play the part," he said.

The premier's office declined to provide comment yesterday.

A rotating group of native protesters, typically numbering 20 to 30, are camping out at the site around the clock.

A full hearing on Frontenac Venture's application for an injunction is scheduled for Sept. 20.


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