A Queen’s professor is in jail for continuing to protest uranium exploration on disputed land.
Robert Lovelace is a former Ardoch Algonquin First Nations chief and teaches Devs 220 and Devs 221 at Queen’s. He also teaches at Sir Sanford Fleming College.
Lovelace has been part of a protest against the Oakville-based mining company Frontenac Ventures Corporation that began on June 28, 2007. Members of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and the Shabot Obaadijiwan Algonquin living in the Ardoch area believe they hold unceded interest in Crown lands to which Frontenac Ventures has laid claim, and that the provincial government should not have granted prospecting rights without consulting them.
They and some of their neighbours also fear that exploratory drilling will contaminate the area’s groundwater. Consequently, protesters set up a camp on the site near Sharbot Lake last June and prevented the mining exploration company from working on the site.
In a statement on the Ardoch Algonquin website, issued last June, Lovelace said Frontenac Ventures purchased the land, which is traditional Ardoch Algonquin Land, without their consent. “Frontenac Ventures Corporation should not have been granted claims or staking rights on our traditional lands without prior notification by the Ministry of Mining and Northern Development, and they should not have been allowed to purchase our lands without our consent, as we are the only autonomous authority within those lands,” Lovelace wrote.
On Feb. 15 at Kingston’s Superior Court, Justice Douglas Cunningham found Lovelace guilty of contempt of court for failing to obey an injunction issued September 27, 2007 ordering him to stop months in jail and fined $25,000.
Lovelace’s co-defendant, Ardoch Algonquin chief Paula Sherman was also found guilty of contempt of court and was fined $15,000, but waved her six-month jail sentence by agreeing to abide by the injunction. The injunction prohibits Sherman from participating in, or advocating other to participate in, a blockade. It requires her to recommend or use best efforts to persuade other people to also obey the court orders.
Rachel Kelleher, ArtSci ’10, is enrolled in the Devs 221 class Lovelace taught up until Feb. 13.
“As a professor he’s very engaging and compassionate,” she said. “He’s very encouraging of students who may have a different perspective.”
Bonita Lawrence, a professor from York University and friend of Lovelace, has taken over teaching the class.
“She had an understanding with him prior to his sentencing that if he should be sentenced she would come in and take over his class,” she said. “She’s very knowledgeable about the situation and encourages open discussion.” Kelleher, who was present at Lovelace’s sentencing, said she thought the sentence was too harsh.
“I felt outraged at the fact that a professor I held in such high regard was being treated like a common criminal when he was standing up for what he thought was just.”
Ardoch Algonquin First Nations lawyer Christopher Reid said Lovelace’s sentence wasn’t a surprise.
“It’s harsh, but it’s not unexpected,” he said. “Although it’s at the high end, it’s not completely outside of the range.”
Lovelace is being held in the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, ON. There’s no guarantee Lovelace will be released from the correctional centre before his six month sentence is up.
“Even if we do appeal, they won’t likely let him out unless he’s willing to sign an undertaking saying he won’t return to protesting,” he said. “When I spoke to him [on Tuesday], he said he’s not prepared to do that.” Reid said part of the problem is that it’s almost impossible to reconcile Canadian and Algonquin law.
“This case is an example of that,” he said. “[The Algonquins] feel like they’re in a foreign justice system, and can’t convey to the court why they feel it’s a violation of human rights. … [Lovelace] testified to in court that it was his understanding through talks with elders that uranium is something that should stay in the ground and shouldn’t be mined.” Frontenac Ventures lawyer Neal Smitheman said he thinks Lovelace’s sentence was fair, given the circumstances. “Mr. Lovelace was given the opportunity to purge his contempt,” he said. “I think it was a fair sentence, and it allows Mr. Lovelace to reconsider his decision.”
Smitheman said Canadian law should apply to all Canadian citizens. “The trick is to find a way to accommodate different cultures, but in order to have peace, order and good government, which is the foundation of our society, there can really only be one law that the court can impose on the citizens, and that’s what happened in this case.” Smitheman said he found it odd that Algonquin law has a specific law against uranium mining.
Smitheman said that, because Lovelace refused to obey Canadian law, going to court was the only way to resolve the issue.
“That may sound harsh, but those who obey the law should be able to expect protection of the law,” he said. “Those who don’t will have to expect punishment. That’s the basis of a liberal democracy.”
Smitheman said he thinks disobeying laws you disagree with isn’t the right way to resolve legal issues.
“If you do that, that’s the road to anarchy,” he said. “You may have some sympathy for those who do not support the mining act or having uranium mined, and those are all legitimate concerns, but to refuse to obey a court order is simply not acceptable in a free and democratic society.”
Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the University doesn’t involve itself in political issues and has no official stance on the Lovelace case.
“We do, however, believe very firmly in freedom of speech and expression, and it is the right of members of our society to state their opposition to what is going on and to do what they believe is necessary,” he said. If a professor has to leave his or her job because of imprisonment, Deane said the University takes into account the level at which their absence impinges on their work before looking into terminating the professor’s job.
“In the case of Lovelace, he’s very well known to be a very professional and effective instructor,” Deane said. “Our view is that he is unable to fulfill his duties here [while imprisoned], and that’s something we accept. We recognize he has made provisions for his students, and there’s no reason at all at the end of his term for his imprisonment he couldn’t come back and resume his work.”
Although the University administration isn’t taking a side on the issue, Deane said he encourages discourse between students and faculty.
“In this particular instance, the University would strongly recommend that issues raised by this case be discussed and considered by the academic community for the interests in arriving at the most informed conclusion.”
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