Algonquin Chief to Serve Jail Term
By Bruce Ward (Ottawa Citizen) - Friday, February 15, 2008 : An aboriginal leader who defied the law by staging protests at a potential uranium mining site near Sharbot Lake was sentenced Friday to six months in jail for contempt of court. The jail sentence makes Robert Lovelace, co-chief of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, "a political prisoner," said lawyer Chris Reid, who represented Mr. Lovelace in the case.
"Bob Lovelace is a political prisoner and he is in jail because (Ontario Premier) Dalton McGuinty and (Aboriginal Affairs Minister) Michael Bryant refused to consult with this community. The Ardoch Algonquin have made numerous proposals to Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Bryant to have discussions to peacefully resolve the issue around uranium mining in their territory."
Mr. Reid said Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Bryant never responded to the Ardoch Algonquin proposals.
"They instructed their lawyers to sit in court this week and say nothing while the lawyers for the mining company asked for six-month jail terms and punitive fines. The fact that Mr. Lovelace is in jail today is one hundred per cent the fault of Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Bryant.
Paula Sherman, co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin, was also sentenced to six months by Justice Douglas Cunningham in a Kingston court yesterday after being found guilty of contempt of court.
But Ms. Sherman, the single mother of three children, was spared jail time in return for agreeing to obey the court injunctions. This means she must stay away from the site and not participate in any protests there.
Mr. Lovelace was also fined $25,000, and Ms. Sherman $15,000. Although Ms. Sherman will not be behind bars, the judge ruled that she must pay the fine.
Both co-chiefs had admitted taking part in protests on the property, near Sharbot Lake, Ont., about 60 kilometres north of Kingston. Two court rulings had granted Frontenac Ventures Corp., a mining exploration company, access to the site to carry out test drilling for uranium.
Protesters from both the Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquin First Nations occupied the disputed site from late June to mid-October last year, defying court injunctions that ordered them off the site and gave police the authority to arrest them.
The Algonquin protesters maintain the site is on their land. They are concerned that uranium drilling could lead to environmental contamination.
The occupation ended after the Ontario government agreed to mediation talks. But the protests began again this month after those talks failed.
Mr. Reid also said the Algonquin community was also fined $10,000.
"This is a community that has no funding from anywhere. They raise money through concerts and bake sales. They are not funded by the federal government. So they'll lose out. The community is essentially bankrupted by this decision."
The statement of defence in the case, which challenged the constitutional validity of the Ontario Mining Act, was struck out by the judge.
"When your statement of defence is struck out, you're gone," said Mr. Reid. "You can't bring motions, you can't do anything.
"The punishment for contempt of court is all about punishing people because, instead of going to court to seek remedies against the government, they used what he (the judge) called self-help. It seems utterly perverse to me to say were going to punish you for that by kicking you out court. This kind of decision, it leaves people nothing to lose. Any rational person would ask, if you're going to kick people out of the court, how can you then expect them to not use self-help?"
The blockade began when the Algonquins discovered that Frontenac Ventures Corporation had begun removing trees and blasting rock to prepare for exploration for uranium near Sharbot Lake.