In this issue we have photos showing anti-racism and the progress that has been made in northern Quebec in the Val d’Or region. Unfortunately we also have photos of what I would describe as selective racism as well.
I am referring to the sentencing of a chief, four band councillors and a community member in Ontario to six months in prison. The jail time was handed down because the judge knew the six couldn’t pay the huge fines he imposed on them for defending their traditional territory. He knew this because the court costs of $500,000 had bankrupted the First Nations community.
It all started when a mining exploration company wasn’t allowed to just go ahead and mine disputed territory. The hopeful exploiters, Platinex, filed suit against the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation and sued it for $10 billion. When this was found to be excessive Platinex dropped its suit to a mere $10 million.
The KI people believed in the Canadian justice system and went to court. All their actions were pretty peaceful.
However, they quickly discovered the price of a peaceful protest and a court case in Ontario is quite high. It comes down to all your money and your freedom. Unfortunately the jailings make armed blockades all the more attractive. If you are going to spend time in jail for peaceful protests, why not get involved in some action beforehand. What’s the difference?
Many are calling the six Canada’s latest political prisoners though they could rightly be called Corporate Canada’s prisoners also.
Judge Smith said he regretted what he had to do but there was precedent for it as an Algonquin Nation leader Bob Lovelace was sentenced to six months and fined $25,000. The Crown prosecutors themselves didn’t recommend incarceration.
It is a shame Judge Smith didn’t look at the precedent that was set by Canada’s Supreme Court that states corporations and governments have to consult with First Nations before anything is done on their land. Any Aboriginal can tell you that in the past laws and precedents have been conveniently forgotten or bypassed for profit. This may not be the case here but it is a question of whether or not a province can supercede a federal decision and law.
The Ontario government gave Platinex its permit, so shouldn’t it have been the one to be sued? To be fair the Ontario government offered $200,000 towards the court costs and continued assistance if the chief and band councillors wished to appeal. Ontario also said it was disheartened by the ruling but couldn’t interfere with the judicial system. Does this stop the Ontario government from revoking Platinex’s permits to mine in the area? One would think not.
As for Platinex it has stated repeatedly how it is just a small company trying to make itself a little larger. In August 2006, Platinex alleged that the protest by the KI First Nation was hostile and threatening, and involved the seizure of equipment and the plowing of an airstrip. The KI First Nation alleged that the protest was peaceful and involved elderly members and children. Members of the Ontario Provincial Police were present and no one was arrested. Platinex lawyer Neal Smitheman said, “Platinex has done absolutely everything -more than any other exploration company that I am aware of – in terms of acting reasonably under the circumstances.” He said Platinex has gone beyond what it had to do to make its project possible.
So who is to blame? Nobody seems to want these six leaders in jail but there they sit. With a vanishing exploration and exploitation base the mining companies are heading north with the message that any resistance against resource extraction will be met with jail time and costly penalties.
Lorraine Major, the chief of Northwest Angle First Nation, said, “I wish we could stand up for our rights without being jailed.”
Canada’s Anglican primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, said the jailing arises “out of the continual imposition of the power and values of colonizers.”