Does the Quebec government know what’s going on in the forests? Is it letting logging companies get away with breaking the law? Are many Cree traplines on the verge of collapse due to unregulated clearcutting?

These are some of the questions that will be answered in the coming weeks and beyond, as hearings proceed into a Cree request for an injunction on logging in much of the Cree territory (see News, page 5).

In this interview, we asked Sam Etapp to explain the reasons behind the injunction request and what’s happening with the trees.

-Alex Roslin

The Nation: Why did the Cree side decide to file an injunction?

Sam Etapp: It was a way to speed up things. We went back to the communities to explain that the Mario Lord case has been filed. And I guess people began asking questions – well, how long is it going to take to see anything develop out of this? The lawyers told them, by the time you get your case heard it will be five or 10 years. And then the Crees started asking, is there anything we can do to speed up the proceedings. That’s when they were told about the possibility of filing the interlocutory proceedings. So they agreed to it.

The interlocutory proceedings were supposed to have been filed at the end of the fiscal year, March 31. But when the time came around, the chiefs wanted to give another round of negotiations a chance with Quebec. They put a team together. In the end, the negotiations broke down. What the Crees were asking for all these years, Quebec wasn’t prepared to give. There was a lot of trouble just to try and persuade Quebec to respect the rights and interests of the Crees guaranteed to them under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. There was nothing for the trappers, no recognition of past damages. It was unanimously accepted to reject Quebec’s offer. That’s when the proceedings were filed.

Afterwards, we got a call from the president of one of the companies working in the Chigougamau region. One of our people was told by him that Quebec’s deputy minister of natural resources, Jean Beaulieu, had called all the forestry companies to a meeting to give them an overview of the negotiations that had taken place between the Crees and Quebec. Quebec was painting the picture that the Crees wanted money, which is not the case. Our position was to change the forestry regime. We want a new regime and to establish a new forestry authority for Iyiyuuschii, with a say in how much cutting takes place.

I understand many of the companies operating in James Bay haven’t filed their five-year plans as required under the law. What’s your reaction to that?

When we told that to the trappers, they were pretty upset that the government would allow it. They were saying if that was us doing something contrary to the law, we’d find ourselves in contempt of the laws. Why should the companies get away with it? Something has to be done to correct the situation.

There has been some evidence gathered of the violations of forestry regulations on the ground – the roads, bridges and culverts that aren’t properly built; the debris on the sides of the roads. From what you’ve seen, what kind of impacts does that have?

What the companies have been saying to everybody is there is this set of regulations we’re subjected to, and we follow those regulations. But in reality, by doing a spot check it is clear that is not the case. We have gathered evidence of this. Our legal team is looking at the ways of producing that evidence in the courts.

I was told the cutting plans made by the companies are almost never shown to the trappers. At most, trappers see only a map of the cutting plans, but not the full plan. Is this true?

Yes, we’ve been saying all along that the Crees are not just any group that you would normally consult as part of the consultation mechanism under the Forest Act of Quebec. There are other provisions the Crees are entitled to – public hearings under the James Bay Agreement. They have special status as a people with constitutional rights that need to be considered. The trappers are being asked to work within the existing regime, and it shouldn’t be that way. The companies should work within the provisions of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and all the rights and interests guaranteed to the Crees under that agreement.

Do you think the government has enough people supervising and inspecting the forestry companies?

Definitely not. They can’t carry out their responsibilities to see if the companies are actually following the regulations. That’s been the big complaint of the trappers. We explained to them what are the regulations regarding buffer areas around lakes and water bodies, this kind of thing, and the trappers say that’s not what the companies are doing. There’s nobody going in. We never see anybody going in to do spot checks. The only people they see out there are people working directly for the company, people doing field work, tagging trees in areas scheduled for cutting.

In many instances, the trappers have said the Department of Natural Resources, which is overseeing the cutting, doesn’t have any idea what’s going on in the field. They show the trappers these maps – the areas scheduled for cutting – and the trappers will ask the people from the Department of Natural Resources, where did you get these maps? They tell them, from the forestry companies. So the trappers will ask, are these areas planned for cutting the following year? The guy will tell them, yeah. And the trapper will say, well, I’ve got news for you – this place has already been cut; I live on the trapline, I know what’s going on, I see things that are happening; why are you telling me the companies are going in to cut in an area where they’ve already cut? How much do you guys know about what’s going on out there?

They’re the people authorizing all these clearcuts. So that’s kind of a shocker to these people on the ground level.