Crees launched a legal counter-strike in the Mario Lord forestry lawsuit, filing an appeal of the controversial decision to remove Justice Jean-Jacques Croteau from the case.
Meanwhile, due to a bureaucratic mix-up by the Quebec government, logging machines fell silent all across Quebec on April Fool’s Day.
Forestry companies weren’t laughing as an unknown number of the province’s 10,500 lumberjacks and other forest workers had to stop cutting trees.
The reason: all the companies’ forest permits expired on April 1 and the government is late in approving new permits.
Quebec scrambled to pass emergency legislation to extend the permits, but didn’t get its law passed until April 6. It could take two more weeks before the paperwork gets done to renew the permits.
“We aren’t moving. We are all dead,” complained Michel Deshaies, forestry-operations director at Barrette-Chapais Ltd. He said 120 of his workers were off work.
On April 7, the day after the emergency bill was passed, Crees filed an appeal of the decision to remove judge Croteau from the forestry case. Croteau was removed after he made a ruling Dec. 20 that favoured the Crees.
Croteau said the Quebec government had “openly and continually violated” Cree rights under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
The judge gave Quebec six months to start changing its forestry and environmental laws to respect Cree rights.
After Croteau’s removal on March 8, Cree chiefs announced they have no more faith in the justice system and threatened to tear up the James Bay Agreement. They also said they would consider dropping out of the court case.
Cree chiefs, Elders, trappers and community members held a series of meetings across Iyiyuuschii to figure out what to do next. In the end, they decided to appeal Croteau’s removal.
“People were concerned about the decision (to remove Croteau), especially the Elders. They are in a state of great incomprehension,” said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees.
“They think a judge is in a position of great honour. To have him unceremoniously removed is a great dishonour.”
Namagoose said no decisions were made on the other issue — withdrawing from the James Bay Agreement.
Backing for the Cree appeal came from affidavits of support from eight First Nations and environmental groups, including the Assembly of First Nations, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Kahnawake, Kanehsatake and Akwesasne.
AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine called Croteau’s removal “virtually unprecedented,” an “abuse of power” and “disturbing” to all Aboriginal peoples.
The move “compromises the right of Aboriginal peoples to a full, fair and impartial hearing before an independent and impartial judiciary,” he wrote.
Greenpeace said it “questions very seriously the wisdom” of Croteau’s removal.