Normally, Freddy Jolly spends his birthdays in the bush with his family. But Wednesday May 8, saw him in Montreal listening to the closing arguments of whether he has a right to launch a class-action suit against Cree Construction, SDBJ and the Attorney-Generals of Quebec and Canada.
He didn’t understand the closing remarks as the court used French as the language of his choice. Even though this is a language Jolly never learned, he felt it be best because the judge would understand the case better in French.
This case is a first. It is the first time that Natives have used the class-action process for Aboriginal rights.
Jolly is seeking compensation from Cree Construction for damages his trapline in the Nemaska Territory suffered when the Route du Nord was built. The SDBJ was named because it gave Cree Construction the contract to build the road, which linked Nemaska to Chibougamau. The Attorney-Generals are named because Jolly claims they failed in their duty to protect the rights of those affected by the road.
A class-action suit would allow all those affected by the road to join the same legal case. The judge’s ruling is expected by July.
An important part of the debate was about hunting, trapping and fishing, and the size of the group to be compensated. Cree Construction lawyers argued that only full time trappers were entitled to compensation for losses due to the Route du Nord.
Jolly’s lawyer, Francois Robert, argued that part-time and occasional hunters should be considered too, pointing out that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement doesn’t make a distinction on how much time you spend hunting to be considered a hunter.
In a surprising move, infighting among the defendants’ lawyers surfaced when Cree Construction’s lawyers disassociated themselves from the arguments presented by the federal and provincial lawyers. Cree Construction lawyer Sebastien Grammond said the company doesn’t support the government positions used against the Crees.
“Cree Construction is for the trappers and has taken care of the trappers,” said Cree Construction lawyer Jean-Pierre de Pelteau. “This is what we told the judge. We contest the position of the government in regards to their interpretations of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement as well as their fiduciary responsibilities.”
The class-action suit requests that a trappers’ fund be set up for Cree beneficiaries affected by the road, as well as compensation money for individuals affected.
If the court rules that Jolly can proceed with the class-action suit, the people affected by the road will be notified through The Nation. They will not be responsible for court costs. Even if the court rules Jolly can’t proceed with the class-action suit, his lawyer said there are a number of other options available to them.
The ruling can be appealed, a settlement can be negotiated, an individual court action is possible or Jolly may decide to do nothing.