First Nation says it can’t afford legal fight against mining company, province

 

First Nation says it can't afford legal fight against mining company, province

 

BY KEITH LESLIE

(c) 2007 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

 

TORONTO _ A remote First Nations community in northern Ontario said Thursday it can no longer afford to continue its legal fight with the province and the mining firm Platinex because the Crown and the company have tried to bankrupt the aboriginals by prolonging proceedings.

 

The Kitchenuhmayboosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation has already spent $700,000 on legal fees and can't afford to keep going, spokesman John Cutfeet said in an interview.

 

“Ontario is still trying to drag out the process for as long as it can, until we're bankrupt,'' he said. “We're being penalized for being poor.''

 

The band is fighting to be consulted before Platinex drills exploratory holes in the area around Big Trout Lake, about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. The area Platinex wants to explore is not on KI reserve land, but is within the band's traditional territory.

 

Cutfeet said that based on the actions of the Crown in the KI case, any company with deep pockets can wait for a First Nations community to go bankrupt, and then it will have access to their lands.

 

“That to me is denial of access to justice based on funding,'' he said.

 

“It's an access to justice issue because we don't have the money to try and stay involved in the court process because Ontario refuses to seriously deal with the issue of funding.''

 

Nishnawbe Aski National Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said this is not the first time the government has used a legal tactic “designed to make it too expensive'' for an aboriginal community to use the courts to get justice.

 

“The government of Ontario is forcing us into confrontations on our land,'' Fiddler said. “And we all saw what that led to at Ipperwash.''

 

Kate Kempton, a lawyer working with the KI First Nation, said there is no doubt the government is doing its best to drag out the court proceedings in a deliberate effort to bankrupt the small band.

 

“We've been aware for years that the Crown, in particular, appears to be employing a strategy of driving the First Nation under by bringing a whole bunch of motions that jacks up the costs,'' she said.

 

“That's an age-old tactic, and this last motion by Ontario is ludicrous. It's vexatious, it's illegal and is designed to do just that.''

 

The motion Kempton claims is illegal was an attempt by the province to get a court-ordered review of the band's legal costs, which she said no third party has the right to ask for.

 

However, Kathy Nosich, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, said the government has already given the KI band $50,000 of a promised $150,000 for legal fees, but can't provide any more money until it gets paperwork to justify the expenditures.

 

“Any further allocation of funds has to be supported by appropriate documentation,'' Nosich said. “We'd really like to keep working with them on this so we can get an accurate picture of their costs.''

 

NDP Leader Howard Hampton said Thursday the Liberal government has an obligation to at least subsidize the band's legal battle to protect its traditional lands or be consulted about mining activities.

 

“It would appear that the constitutional rights and the treaty rights of First Nations can be overcome simply by deep pockets,'' Hampton said.

 

Environmentalists also demanded that the Ontario government take action to help the KI band with its legal costs.

 

“It's very troubling that companies seem to have this unfair advantage against communities and individuals who are trying to protect their lands,'' said Anna Baggio of the Wildlands League.

 

“The government is encouraging this to happen.

 

“If you're a poor community and don't have resources, it's just a matter of time before the companies and the government wait you out.''

 

All three parties are scheduled to return to court in December to consider responsibility for legal costs.