Chief John Kitchen of Waswanipi made his first court appearance on March 15 in Senneterre to face a charge of drinking and driving. He pled not guilty.

The charge stems from an incident last August in which the chief’s sport-utility vehicle went off the road and into the ditch between Desmaraisville and Waswanipi late one night, missing a traffic sign by only centimetres.

Kitchen’s lawyer, Jacques Ladouceur of Val d’Or, is now studying the Crown’s evidence against his client. Another court date has been set, May 17, at which point Kitchen’s lawyer will declare if the chief will proceed with a trial, plead guilty or try to strike a deal with the prosecutor.

Ladouceur refused to comment on the case or even to acknowledge he is representing Kitchen. “It’s a professional secret. If the client doesn’t authorize it, I can’t tell you if he’s my client,” he said.

Kitchen was charged with drinking and driving once before during his previous term as chief. He was found guilty and fined $300.

Under the law, a second drinking-and-driving offense ordinarily carries with it a minimum jail sentence of 14 days if the Crown decides to file what is known as a “notice of repeat offense,” according to Val d’Or Crown prosecutor Marie-Claude Bélanger.

A jail-term would put a chief in conflict with the Cree-Naskapi Act, said Brian Shawana, executive director of the Cree-Naskapi Commission.

The act states that band council members must resign if sentenced to jail for an indictable offense. Shawana said a chief is considered a member of the council under the law.

The Criminal Code also covers some situations where public officials have been convicted of crimes. The code says no one may hold public office if they have been convicted of an indictable offense with a sentence of two years or more, unless they have been pardoned.