The Crees have won a key ruling in one of the early battles of the Mario Lord forestry court case.

Justice Jean-Claude Croteau of Quebec Superior Court ruled that the Canadian government can’t wiggle out of being a defendant in the Cree legal action.

The lawsuit, filed in the summer of 1998, says Quebec’s entire forestry regime is illegal and unconstitutional. It calls on Croteau to rip up the Quebec Forest Act and nulify the timber-support licenses of two dozen of the world’s biggest logging companies.

“Canada and Quebec have been using unjust and wrong interpretive strategies to undermine our rights,” said Grand Chief Ted Moses in a statement.

Canada had argued that the Superior Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to call the federal government as a defendant.

On November 24, Croteau decided otherwise. He ruled Canada had given up some of its sovereignty when it signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreeementin 1975.

Croteau also said the agreement gave Crees treaty rights protected by the Canadian Constitution, which the federal government must respect.

“Canada sought to be shielded, to hide from its fiduciary obligations to the Cree people,” said Moses.

Meanwhile, hearings are expected to wind up early this week on the Cree request for an injunction on the renewal of cutting plans in Cree traplines. Croteau’s decision is expected before Christmas.

Lawyers for the forestry companies have argued that Croteau would cause economic chaos in Quebec if he grants the injunction.

In other news, the Cree forestry campaign is starting to pay off. U.S. lumber-industry officials came to Montreal last week to meet with Crees to discuss Quebec’s forestry policies, which they also have problems with for business reasons.