Ardoch lawyer plans appeal

Drilling could ‘happen any day’ at uranium mining site, Frontenac Ventures CEO says

Ardoch Algonquin First Nation chief Paula Sherman says Algonquins ‘are the most endangered species in the Ottawa Valley.’
Ardoch Algonquin First Nation chief Paula Sherman says Algonquins ‘are the most endangered species in the Ottawa Valley.’

Ardoch Algonquin First Nation lawyer Christopher Reid hopes that, after today, his clients’ news will start to get better.

Reid said he plans to file an appeal for Robert Lovelace’s fine and sentence by today.

“It will be up to the court of appeal to decide whether he will be released pending the appeal,” he said. “He may have to sign an undertaking not to go back to protest. When I last spoke to him he said he wasn’t prepared to do that.”

Lovelace will return to court in Kingston on March 18, where he will begin the second phase of his contempt charges. Ardoch Algonquin First Nation co-chief Paula Sherman, Honourary Chief Harold Perry, and non-Native protesters Frank Morrison, David Milne and John Hudson will also appear in court.

“It’s been divided into two stages. He’s been sentenced for what happened up to Oct. 5, 2007, and now it’s for the alleged contempt after Oct. 5,” Reid said. “It’s also going to deal with the issue of costs, as Frontenac Ventures is asking for full recovery of their legal costs.” Reid said he doesn’t have exact numbers, but based on similar cases expects Frontenac Ventures’ legal costs to be between $75,000 - $100,000.

Since June 2007, members of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and the Shabot Obaajiwan have been protesting against proposed uranium mining and exploration by the Oakville-based mining company Frontenac Ventures. The Ardoch Algonquin and Shabot Obaajiwan claim they own the land because they never ceded it to European colonizers.

Flavia Mussio, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, said negotiations regarding the land are ongoing.

On Feb. 15, Justice Douglas Cunningham found Lovelace guilty of contempt of court for failing to obey an injunction issued Sept. 27, 2007 ordering him to stop protesting. He was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $25,000.

In a statement issued Feb. 12, Justice Cunningham said the province "makes it abundantly clear that Algonquin title evidence is at best slim and probably non-existent," and that "there is precious little evidence of potential adverse effects on the traditional practices" of the native groups that would warrant further consultation by the Ontario government.

Cunningham’s report said there’s no issue as to the good standing of Frontenac Venture’s mining claims and leases.

“The private leases are legally binding agreements permitting [Frontenac Ventures] to explore these lands upon which the owners have mineral rights and indeed in two cases mineral and surface rights.”

Cunningham concluded that Frontenac Ventures would suffer “irreparable harm” if an injunction to stop protesting at the site wasn’t issued.

Cunningham said Frontenac Ventures has already lost $5 million in funding because of difficulties in gaining access to the site due to the protests, and will experience a total collapse in funding if they can’t regain access to the site.

“The bottom line is that without injunctive relief the plaintiff will be out of business.”

Cunningham’s report said there’s little evidence in favour of the defendants.

“I cannot imagine any situation where the illegal blockading of access to someone who has a legal right of entry would ever be justified,” he said. “Indeed, if the defendants thought they had some legitimate reason by blockading access to this property they could very easily have brought this matter to court by way of an injunction application. They have chosen not to do so, but rather have illegally occupied the land and set up a blockade. This cannot be permitted.” On March 7, a public forum on uranium mining was held in Ellis Hall for members of the Queen’s, Kingston, and First Nations communities to express their opinions on the proposed uranium mining and Lovelace’s case.

Lovelace’s co-defendant and Ardoch Algonquin First Nations chief Paula Sherman spoke about her dissatisfaction with the way the Ontario government has handled the situation.

Sherman’s injunction prohibits her from participating in, or advocating others to participate in a bloackade.

“I should be standing here with my mouth taped shut holding a sign that says I’m not allowed to even voice the oppression that’s being committed against us,” she said. “That’s what’s happening in Ontario right now.”

Sherman said Algonquin law is based on the law of the natural world and has been around for over a thousand years.

“We know that our very identity as people is based on maintaining balanced relationships with the land.”

Sherman said the members of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation don’t feel the rights of Ontario, Frontenac Ventures, or the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines should supersede their rights to exist as human beings in their own land.

“We need to somehow make them realize how important this is. Is it going to happen when there are no Algonquins left? If you look at who are the most endangered species in the Ottawa Valley, it’s us,” she said. “We cannot maintain our relationships and responsibilities to the land if there’s a uranium mine.”

Sherman, who teaches indigenous studies at Trent University, said her involvement in the protests and court proceedings hasn’t affected her teaching.

“I’m still allowed to voice my opinions about these things,” she told the Journal. “What I’m not allowed to do is block the site or block Frontenac Ventures from going into the site or to encourage other people to block the site or to prevent them from their work there.”

Sherman told the Journal she’s unable to pay the $15,000 fine imposed on her.

“I don’t have $15,000. I was told I had to pay it within 90 days or I’d be in jail. Our lawyer is filing an appeal, so that hopefully will be delayed at the very least while the appeal is going on.”

Event organizers expected speakers from Frontenac Ventures, but none came.

Frontenac Ventures President and CEO George White said he never had any intention of sending representatives to the forum.

“If the purpose of the meeting had been objective, we would have been there with bells on,” he said. “We have no interest in talking about political issues. We’re in the business of mining and exploration.”

White said drilling at the site is imminent.

“As of this date there is no drilling, but it could happen any day,” he said. “There’s three or four feet of snow, so it’s not going to happen until the snow recedes.”

White said there’s already uranium that naturally exists in the land in that area, and mining it won’t have a negative environmental impact.

“For 10,000 years there has been uranium existing in the lakes and streams in the area. Uranium itself has been in the rock there for millions of years,” he said. “The ice age broke the surface and deposited these sediments in the lakes, and there is therefore naturally occurring radioactivity that exists, and nothing that’s man-made.”

White said the proposed mining and exploration will have zero impact on the environment.

“We proved at trial that the Geological Survey of Canada, the federal arm on geological matters, during 1980 had conducted sediment sampling of all the lakes in the area,” he said. “They published these results, and we made copies available for many groups with local interests. They concluded with the World Health Organization and the government of Canada that two parts per million is a reasonable and safe level of uranium in drinking water.”

White said he’s troubled by the negative media attention Frontenac Ventures has been receiving.

“[The Ardoch Algonquin First Nations] are as aware as we are that nothing that Frontenac Ventures could do … could ever come close to duplicating what nature has done itself,” he said. “It’s misguided and some people get a lot of media coverage when it’s absolutely false.”

Ardoch Algonquin member Carol-Anne Bate said they haven’t seen any drills go onto the property, but they “simply can’t stand by and watch the water system be poisoned.”

“We will have to stop them. I mean could you, if you were standing on a piece of land they were going to come in and turn into radioactive material, could you look the other way?”

—With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

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