Anglican Church criticizes jailing of six native leaders


Anglican Church criticizes jailing of six native leaders; Primate sends letter to Ontario premier about sentences for mining protest


Jorge Barrera

The Ottawa Citizen

Copyright © 2008 Ottawa Citizen


The "continual imposition of the powers and values of colonizers" led to the jailing of six people from a small northern Ontario First Nations community who were trying to stop mineral exploration on their traditional territory, says the Anglican Church of Canada.


Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nations Chief Donny Morris, his deputy chief, three councillors and another community member were sentenced to six months in jail for contempt this past week in Thunder Bay over their opposition to Platinex Inc.'s plans to drill for platinum on the community's traditional lands near Big Trout Lake.


The First Nation, which sits about 1,218 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, has banned federal and provincial politicians from entering the community and turned back a scheduled stop by provincial court officials on Thursday as a result of the sentence.


Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he had "deep concern" over the incarceration and warned it had "caused a serious impasse between the indigenous peoples of Canada and the government of Ontario," in a March 20 letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.


"It appears that Chief Morris and his council accepted (the) ruling because of an inability to continue paying the escalating legal fees defending their suit. Now in jail, they are paying the costs with their lives," wrote Archbishop Hiltz, in the letter released by the church. "I appeal to your government to work diligently with the KI First Nations in the interest of a fair and just solution to the impasse, and the freeing of those who are jailed."


Chris Reid, a lawyer representing the jailed six, said the province was exhibiting a curious double standard by jailing First Nations members who protest peacefully for rights, but backing off when faced with a more aggressive position, like that of Six Nations and their takeover of a Caledonia housing development two years ago.


Mr. Reid also represents Bob Lovelace of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nations, who recently received a six-month sentence and a $25,000 fine over his involvement in protests against drilling by a uranium prospecting company near Kingston.


"A lot of people are saying that the KI and Ardoch leadership are too passive and too peaceful," said Mr. Reid. "If you are extremely aggressive in defending your land, then the province may back down and back off."


KI First Nation plans to keep its protests peaceful. A "reminder from Chief Morris" posted on its website urged members to not use "foul language," violence or "obscene gestures as a result of our incarceration."