Almost all of the forestry companies cutting trees on Cree land may be violating Quebec law because they are six months overdue on filing their five-year cutting plans.
The cutting plans are required by Quebec law from forestry companies as part of their license to cut down trees.
Provincial law allows the government to revoke a forestry company’s license if it doesn’t file its five-year plan on time, and the company can be told to stop cutting trees.
But the Quebec government is allowing the companies to keep cutting on Cree land, even though none of the companies has received any official extension.
The government does not expect many of the companies to file their plans until March 31, 2000.
Forestry companies logging the eastern half of James Bay were supposed to file their cutting plans on April 1 of this year.
“They didn’t file on April 1,” acknowledged Yvon Bouchard, chief of the Chibougamau regional office of Quebec’s Natural Resources Ministry.
“They will be in conformity on March 31, 2000,” he said.
The companies logging western James Bay were supposed to file their plans on April 1 of 1998. They got a one-year extension, but as of yet most of them haven’t filed a plan 18 months after the first deadline.
Bouchard confirmed there “were no official extensions. For different reasons, they are filed late.”
Asked if the law allows for such extensions, he wouldn’t comment.
“You’d have to ask that question to those who interpret the law,” he said. “The ministry decided to tolerate it.”
But lawyers for the Crees say there does not appear to be anything in the provincial law that allows the extensions.
“I haven’t found any sections that said they were allowed to do that,” said one lawyer active in the Cree forestry court action.
“When we told that to the trappers, they were pretty upset that the government would allow it,” said Sam Etapp, coordinator of the Cree forestry court action (see Interview, page 10).
“They were saying if that was us doing something contrary to the law, we’d find ourselves in contempt of the laws. Why should the companies get away with it?”
Bouchard insisted that the companies are acting in “good faith.” He said Chantiers Chibougamau, for example, is late because of a forest fire, which forced it to redo its inventory of the territory. Other companies supposedly had trouble digesting a new formula that Quebec required them to adopt to calculate Iyiyuuschii’s timber wealth.
René Bourassa, Quebec’s lead lawyer on the forestry court case, refused to answer any questions on the companies’ non-conformity with the law.
Michel Deshais, director of forestry operations at Barette-Chapais Ltée, refused to admit his company failed to file its plan on time: “Why do you want to know that?”
He referred questions to Quebec’s natural resources ministry, but they didn’t call back in time.