Environmentalists, forestry experts and Crees are reacting with disbelief and concern to the decision to replace Justice Jean-Jacques Croteau as the judge presiding over the Cree forestry lawsuit.

“It’s a very low blow to use tactics like that because you’re not happy with a decision,” said Henri Jacob, president of the Quebec Network of Ecological Groups, which has 80,000 members.

“It’s not a very honourable tactic to attack a judge instead of the judgement. It gives people the message that even if they get a favourable decision, the government will remove the judge.”

Croteau stunned government circles and the forestry industry with his Dec. 20 ruling that Quebec’s entire forestry regime is illegal because it violates Cree rights.

Chief Justice Lyse Lemieux of Quebec Superior Court removed Croteau from the case on March 8. She said his Dec. 20 ruling shows he may have already made up his mind on the rest of the lawsuit. “It’s an incredible decision,” said a flabbergasted James O’Reilly, a lawyer for the Crees.

“She can’t say that. She’s hypothesizing what Croteau would have decided. It’s an elementary error of law.”

O’Reilly pointed out that Croteau was chosen as the judge only after the Quebec government and forestry companies rejected 37 other possible judges.

“It’s a very bad signal,” said Luc Bouthiller, a forestry professor at Laval University and former Quebec appointee to a Quebec-Cree environmental panel. “Maybe there is some legal reason for it. But in terms of symbolism, once again the ditch between Native and non-Native is a little bit deeper in Quebec. I’m a little scared about it.”

One Cree echoed this concern, saying relations with non-Natives are deteriorating: “It’s going to be very different now. We’re always going to have to look behind us. We’re always going to have to be ready.” Louise Accolas, spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Jacques Brassard, said she wouldn’t be commenting: “No comment, my dear sir. The process is taking its course.”