Indignation and anger characterized the mood in the Cree communities as word spread of a stunning reversal in the Mario Lord forestry court case filed by the Crees.
“It’s an outright declaration of war. That pretty much says it all about how Canada and Quebec think about Aboriginal people.” said one Cree who predicted “a hot summer” in James Bay. “It’s a lot more than a court case now.”
“It’s a sad day for Quebec justice,” said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees. “I feel embarrassed for all Quebecers. Their justice system has been tarnished.”
Meanwhile, Cree officials are threatening to rip up the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, take “effective control” over Iyiyuuschii and call in United Nations observers to monitor Quebec’s legal system.
The moves and harsh words came in protest against a decision March 8 by Chief Justice Lyse Lemieux of Quebec Superior Court to replace the judge who had presided over the Mario Lord forestry lawsuit filed in 1998.
The judge, Jean-Jacques Croteau, had made an initial decision favouring the Crees Dec. 20. In a ruling on a side motion in the forestry case, he declared the Quebec government had “openly and continually violated” Cree rights under the James Bay Agreement. He gave Quebec six months to start changing its forestry laws to respect the agreement.
Lemieux replaced Croteau, ruling he might have prejudged the rest of the case in his Dec. 20 ruling. She appointed Justice Danielle Grenier, a former Quebec government lawyer, as the new judge.
At a press conference in Montreal, Grand Chief Ted Moses called Croteau’s removal a “political decision” that is “without basis in law.”
“Today, we are announcing that we are taking effective control over our land,” said Moses. “We are reinstating the rights we always claimed we had.
“If we weren’t in this conference room, we would have burned the (James Bay) agreement right here in front of you, but we don’t want to burn down our office.”
Cree chiefs flew down to Montreal for an emergency meeting after Lemieux’s decision. They decided to withdraw from the forestry case until Croteau is reinstated, ask judges across Canada to speak out against a “travesty of justice” and launch a protest campaign against Quebec’s forestry policy In the United States and Europe.
Cree officials immediately started a tour of the communities to find out if the court case should continue and what should be done next.
Moses wouldn’t explain the implications of withdrawing from the James Bay Agreement, saying that will be worked out in consultations with Crees. He did suggest, however, that Crees might set up their own forestry regime to regulate logging and replace Quebec’s laws.
He also warned that if Quebec and Ottawa retaliate by cutting off funds to the Crees, “we will want all the dams removed, all the airports removed, all the forestry companies to pick up and leave, everything back the way it was before.”
Quebec government and forestry-industry officials refused to comment.