Six jailed northern Ontario aboriginal leaders granted temporary release

 

Six jailed northern Ontario aboriginal leaders granted temporary release

 

BY TOBI COHEN

(c) 2008 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

 

TORONTO _ A group of northern Ontario aboriginal leaders jailed over a dispute with a mining exploration company got a temporary reprieve Friday, but their lawyer said they could be back in jail as early as next week if the province doesn't change the Mining Act.

 

The Ontario Court of Appeal ordered six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation _ including its chief and deputy chief _ released from jail for five days pending their next court appearance May 28.

 

They were released on their own recognizance after they agreed to abide by an injunction that prohibits them from interfering with the work of Platinex Inc., which, in turn, promised not to bring an exploration crew onto the disputed land before 9 a.m. May 29.

 

“They will have to report back to jail on May 29 unless there's a further order from the court,'' said lawyer Chris Reid, who also noted the group is appealing its six-month sentences, not the finding of contempt of court.

 

“The decision today changes nothing. The only way these people are going to be able to get out of jail, stay out of jail, is if the government of Ontario recognizes the right of these communities to say no to mining on their land.''

 

Reid said Friday's Appeal Court decision did nothing for Bob Lovelace of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in eastern Ontario, who is on a hunger strike and remains in solitary confinement on similar charges as the six who were released.

 

“We're asking the Court of Appeal to send a message to the government that they need to change the mining law or this is going to happen over and over and over again,'' Reid said.

 

“They either have to amend the Mining Act or build a prison for political prisoners, because that's what we're going to be doing in Ontario if (Premier) Dalton McGuinty doesn't take steps to change this 19th-century Mining Act.''

 

The six freed KI leaders are expected to attend a rally at the Ontario legislature Monday aimed at pressuring the government to halt mining and forestry on their traditional lands, said organizer Jack Lapointe of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation.

 

Protesters plan to remain on the front lawn of the legislature conducting traditional aboriginal ceremonies until May 29 _ the national aboriginal day of action.

 

The office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant issued a statement saying the government was pleased to hear the six jailed protesters were released.

 

“Today's court decision is a positive resolution and reflects the combined efforts of all parties involved,'' it said.

 

“It respects the rule of law and allows good faith negotiations to prevail.''

 

While the statement said the government has “made every effort to expedite the appeal of their sentences in order to get all parties back to the negotiating table,'' Reid vehemently disagreed and slammed the government for what he called its total inaction on the matter.

 

“They had no role to play in any of this,'' he said. “They're completely indifferent. They're useless _ completely useless. They've done nothing whatsoever to resolve either case.

 

“They don't even respond to our calls and e-mails, yet we constantly have Michael Bryant in the media claiming they're working hard to resolve this. They've done absolutely nothing.''

 

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said last month the Liberal government is committed to changing mining laws to include proper consultation with First Nations, but that it will take time.

 

Gravelle said the government was not prepared to heed calls for a moratorium that would stop mining companies from staking claims on Crown land in the meantime.