Former chief won't give up uranium mine battle

Posted By Sue Yanagisawa

Feb 14, 2008
Kingston Whig Standard

A former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nations yesterday told Justice Douglas Cunningham that he will continue to resist uranium prospecting on lands claimed by Frontenac Ventures Corp. north of Sharbot Lake, even if it means disobeying an order of the court.

Robert Lovelace was testifying in Kingston's Superior Court with respect to contempt charges filed after he and other leaders from his community and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, defied an interim injunction, through September last year, and a subsequent charge they've defied Justice Douglas Cunningham's permanent injunction issued in September.

Frontenac Ventures' lawyer, Neal J. Smitheman, filed the charges with the court last October after his client's company had been shut out of its claim site for most of the summer by a protest camp set up by Algonquins on June 28.

Those proceedings were adjourned, in hopes that the provincial and federal governments would engage in mediation with the Algonquins to resolve the conflict.

But lawyers for both communities have told Cunningham this week that government representatives have been unwilling to consult with them on the key issues, such as the question of whether Frontenac Ventures' prospecting claim was legally granted and whether drilling should be allowed.

Neither group has disputed the essential facts alleged in support of the charges, however, and Cunningham has found both in contempt of the August interim injunction of Justice Gordon Thomson and his own interlocutory injunction issued Sept. 27.

On Tuesday, Shabot Obaadjiwan leaders opted out of any direct struggle with the Oakville-based mining exploration company and signed an undertaking promising to obey the injunction. Sentencing on their charges has been put over to March.

The Ardoch Algonquins declined to participate in a similar exercise. But their lawyer, Christopher Reid, called Lovelace to testify on sentencing and their defence that they believed they had a "colour of right" to be on those lands.

At the time the protest camp was set up, Lovelace said there were discussions with the OPP and it was his belief that the police force's legal department had decided "we had colour of right and they would not remove us." Consequently, he didn't believe they were breaking the law, he said.

Justice Cunningham wanted to know who had told them they had any colour of right to be on those lands and Lovelace replied, "I believe it was the [OPP] Aboriginal Response Team."

Later, when Smitheman pressed him on the point, Lovelace provided no names, but told the court "my understanding was that it was a common understanding" between protesters and members of both the OPP ART embedded with them and the OPP's Major Events Liaison Team, which was dealing with their "settler" neighbours during the dispute with the prospecting company.

Lovelace also disclosed that since the contempt proceedings adjourned last fall, there has been a call for a moratorium on uranium mining by an Algonquin spiritual leader, Elder William Commanda, endorsed by Ardoch's own Harold Perry.

He told the court that now makes uranium mining contrary to Algonquin law.

Smitheman demanded to know if that means Lovelace will disobey Canadian civil law. Lovelace, who said he believes in the rule of law and respects Canadian law, admitted to finding himself in a predicament: "I can't speculate on my intentions," he said. "But I can tell you I am bound by Algonquin law."

He advised the judge that Algonquin Elder Harold Perry, who is also charged in the current contempt proceedings, will not be participating in any future interference with Frontenac Ventures' plans. Out of concern for Perry's age and health, Lovelace said the heads of families council, the community's decision making body, has asked Perry not to put himself at risk.

Likewise, he testified that co-chief Randy Cota, a sergeant with the OPP, has been directed not to participate in any Ardoch Algonquin business relating to the uranium prospecting or Frontenac Ventures because "he has a clear conflict of interest."

But, "for myself," Lovelace replied to the Frontenac Ventures' lawyer, "I am prepared to resist any further exploration on that site."

And in answer to a direct question from Smitheman about co-chief Paula Sherman's intentions, he answered: "My understanding is that Dr. Sherman takes the same position."

Earlier, under questioning by Ardoch Algonquin First Nation lawyer Christopher Reid, Lovelace explained that he has an obligation both to follow and to enforce Algonquin law. The consequences of doing otherwise, he said "would be the diminishment of me as a human being, as an Anishinabe man."

Smitheman grilled Lovelace late into the afternoon about interviews he's given and letters he's written in opposition to Frontenac Venture's plans. The lawyer even suggested that it's people like him who cause violent and tragic confrontations.

At one point, Smitheman showed Lovelace a document, which the Queen's University teacher identified as something from the community's e-mail network. He agreed with Smitheman that it outlines a non-violent strategy to prevent Frontenac Ventures' getting drills on its claim site.

Smitheman zeroed in on one part of the message that refers to "trained intervention teams" and asked if members of those teams would stand or lay in front of heavy equipment to prevent it getting to its destination. Lovelace agreed their methods would be non-violent.

"Who are those people," Smitheman demanded.

"I'm not going to tell you that," Lovelace answered, at which point Justice Cunningham joined in: "I'm going to request that you respond to that question," he told Lovelace.

"I'm sorry your honour, I can't," came the reply, to which Cunningham insisted: "I'm not going to request that you respond this time. I'm going to order you to respond to that question."

But Lovelace didn't budge. "I'm sorry, your honour," he told the judge. "I can't. These people have done nothing wrong."

Cunningham didn't look pleased. But he told Smitheman to continue his questioning and said he'd take Lovelace's refusal "under advisement."

The hearing resumes this morning at the Frontenac County Court House.