Ontario Regional Chief responds to sentencing of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief and Council

 

Ontario Regional Chief responds to sentencing of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief and Council

 

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TORONTO, March 18 /CNW/ — TORONTO, March 18 /CNW/ – On March 17, 2007 in Thunder Bay, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris, four Councillors, and a community member were sentenced by Ontario Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith to six month jail terms for contempt of an October 25, 2007 court ruling.

 

"I vehemently disagree with our people being jailed for defending their constitutional rights. The sentencing of Chief Morris and Councillors demonstrates all that is wrong with settling these issues through the Courts" stated Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.

 

Regional Chief Toulouse pointed out that from the very beginning Ontario failed to consult and accommodate the concerns and interests of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI). They sold a mining license to junior mining exploration company Platinex Inc. without any input or notification to the First Nation. Ontario then failed to facilitate a consultative process with the First Nation as is their responsibility. "Essentially, the First Nation was relegated to dealing directly with Platinex Inc. with Ontario absent from the discussion. The duty to consult with and accommodate First Nations interests cannot be delegated to a third party, it is clearly the responsibility of the Crown government" said Chief Toulouse.

 

In July 2006, KI won an injunction against Platinex Inc. and the Judge ordered that a consultation process be undertaken between KI, Ontario and Platinex. The Regional Chief indicates that this was a positive step and forced Ontario to take on a larger role in the process. However, at that point positions had already hardened and frustration and disappointment had taken hold.

 

In October of 2007, the KI Chief and Council withdrew from the court process citing their inability to cover the mounting legal costs crippling their community. On October 25, 2007, Justice Smith passed down a ruling allowing Platinex Inc. to enter KI territory on November 6 to begin phase I of the exploratory drilling process. On November 6, Platinex representatives arrived in KI and were prevented by Chief Morris and Council members from entering the territory, eventually leaving the community the same day. As a result of this action, Chief Morris, the four Councillors and one community member were charged with being in contempt of a court ruling. "Yesterday, Justice Smith talked about the importance of upholding the rule of law. I am very disturbed by this as the rule of law should apply equally to everyone – but it seems it does not apply to the Crown, as they continue to ignore previous Supreme Court of Canada decisions requiring them to consult with and accommodate the interests of First Nations. Consulting after the fact, or in the middle of an already heated process as Ontario has tried to do in this case is not effective. We see the sad results of this failure in this case" said Chief Toulouse.

 

"It is clear that this situation was mishandled by Ontario from the beginning. This instance shows why the Crown must consult and hold fair negotiations with First Nations at the outset as they are required by law to do. It did not have to come to this. It is extremely disappointing and unprecedented that a Chief and his Council sit in jail right now, while the Ontario government claims to have clean hands" stated Chief Toulouse.

 

The Regional Chief emphasized that the court system is the least appropriate place to deal with complex reconciliation issues between First Nations peoples and the Crown. "The court process criminalizes our people for asserting their constitutional rights. On many occasions the Supreme Court of Canada, and more recently, the Final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry Report, have pointed out that the path forward is negotiation and mediation" said Chief Toulouse.

 

The Regional Chief explained that the reason that many First Nations pursue the settlement of their outstanding claims through the court system is they are left with no alternative. Government inaction and unresponsiveness often forces First Nations into the costly litigation process.

 

Regional Chief Toulouse indicated that in the short time that Minister Michael Bryant has been in office as Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs he has demonstrated a willingness to work with First Nations. However, yesterday's court ruling clearly shows that much work remains in order to genuinely change and improve the relationship between Ontario and First Nations. "Recently, Minister Bryant and First Nations leaders in Ontario made the negotiation process a successful alternative to the court process in reaching a gaming agreement. This shows that with commitment, political will and good faith, negotiation can work" stated Regional Chief Toulouse "but we need to move beyond the rhetoric and the nice sounding words. The most recent Ontario Speech from Throne made reference to developing a "better and improved relationship with First Nations". What does a better and improved relationship look like? We need to define this and actually make the necessary shift to institute real change because it has not happened yet" said Chief Toulouse.

 

First Nations leadership in Ontario will be meeting to discuss and strategize next steps given the March 17, 2008 decision to sentence Chief Morris and his Council members. "Our people are absolutely upset and frustrated. Ontario cannot claim to be an innocent bystander in this while we have leaders sitting in jail. It is incomprehensible and unjust" stated the Regional Chief.