Jailing of native protesters too harsh

 

Jailing of native protesters too harsh

 

Michael Oliveira

The Canadian Press

Copyright (c) 2008 Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

 

TORONTO

 

There was no reason to "bring down the hammer'' on seven aboriginals who were incarcerated and fined after protesting against mining projects in their communities, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled yesterday in calling the six-month sentences "too harsh.''

 

Six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation served almost 10 weeks in jail, while Ardoch Algonquin First Nation leader Bob Lovelace was jailed 14 weeks for contempt-of-court charges related to blockades in areas north of Kingston and Thunder Bay. In late May, the Ontario Court of Appeal reduced their six-month sentences to time served, and yesterday it said imprisoning the protesters only magnified the "estrangement of aboriginal peoples from the Canadian justice system.''

 

Lovelace said he was thrilled by the decision, which he hoped would allay protesters' fears of being jailed when they rally or man blockades for causes they believe in.

 

"I think it's really significant because it says to people who have a legitimate cause that when governments are not willing to meet their obligations or their responsibilities — particularly with First Nations people, but I think with citizens in general — then it's not the court's responsibility to punish you."

 

The protesters had been trying to stop mining on their traditional lands and complained Ontario had not consulted with the communities before giving the companies the go-ahead to begin drilling. The court also dismissed the fines of between $10,000 and $25,000 the protesters faced.