The governments of Canada and Quebec and the forestry companies have asked that Judge Jean-Jacques Crouteau be replaced as the presiding judge in all the proceedings relating to the Cree forestry cases.

The judge was requested to do step down in December of his own free will, but Crouteau said no. In a motion at the end of January, the lawyers for Quebec, Canada and the 25-plus forestry companies asked the Quebec Superior Court to remove Crouteau. Lawyers for the governments and the forestry companies are saying that Crouteau has “prejudged” the case, and this should disqualify him from continuing to hear it.

Associate Chief Justice Andre Deslongchamps refused to consider the motion. Deslongchamps referred the matter to Chief Justice Lyse Lemieux.

Cree leaders are calling this a victory, saying the “government treaty-busters” would “jump at any opportunity to attack decisions” favouring treaty rights.

Cree lawyers say the actions of the governments and forestry companies’ lawyers was scandalous. The Crees received a fax telling them about the motion to remove the judge at 11 p.m., where it went unnoticed until 1:15 a.m. They were expected in court the next day at 9:30 a.m. to hear the motion. Crouteau, at that time, said the lawyers for the federal and Quebec governments and forestry company weren’t following proper procedures, which give a judge 10 days to formally respond to the allegations.

Crouteau sent shock waves through the forestry industry and government circles with a ruling in December on a side motion in the case that favoured the Crees. He said his ruling was a question of law, pure and simple. Crouteau went on to write that this was a unique case that left him no choice but to examine it in that context. He wrote that he was bound to exercise his duties as a decision-maker in good conscience and in a sincere and impartial manner. This was the reason he refused to withdraw from the file.

Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees, said the forestry companies “have found a reliable mercenary in the form of the Canadian government” in trying to impeach Crouteau. Namagoose said the federal government is supposed to be protecting Native rights.

Crouteau wrote in his defense, “It is obvious by the way the Minister and/or the Department apply the law and certain provisions of Section 22 (of the James Bay Agreement) there is an apparent breach of the rights of the Cree applicants to an environmental and social impact assessment in the case of a development or a development project.”

Cree leaders are saying the governments and forestry companies are going too far. Before the case started, they had already submitted a list of 37 judges they didn’t want hearing it. This was close to half of the judges in the court of Montreal. Said one Cree official, “Now, suddenly Judge Crouteau is not acceptable. You have to ask why is this? Is it because of his ruling?” Cree officials say this is yet one more example of Canada not fulfilling its trust obligations to First Nations and exerting undue pressure on any legal system that does recognize those rights.