Ontario premier dithers on First Nations uranium mining stand

Story by Lloyd Dolha

Two Algonquin First Nations plan to continue blocking access to a potential uranium mining site despite a court order granted to an exploration company.

“Our plans at the site are to continue to secure the gate and not permit entry into our lands without our permission,” said Bob Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. “And certainly the exploration company will not be permitted to do any test drilling.”

In a 20 page interim decision, Ontario Superior Court Judge Gordon Thompson ordered that, “ Under no circumstances shall there be entry onto the subject property by anyone else other than an owner with a valid registered deed.”

The decision further orders the removal of all “signs, vehicles, buildings and other paraphernalia erected” there by any of the parties to the court case as of July 1, 2007.

The judge further ordered that an anthropologist be brought onto the property to conduct an investigation searching for sacred Algonquin burial sites.

Protesters from the Ardoch Algonquin and Shabot Obaadijwan First Nations have been blocking the entrance to the mine site, about 60 kilometres north of Kingston since June.

The mining exploration company, Frontenac Ventures Corp. which wants to do test drilling, is sung the Algonquins for $77 million and are seeking a judicial order to remove the First Nations protesters form the property.

The interim decision came just days after the Algonquins sent a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty advising him that they were pulling out of the court process and asked the Ontario Government to intervene in the dispute.

In the letter, they state that they appreciate the challenge the court faces, but the adversarial system may damage future relations with the Crown and called for “government to government negotiations between the province and themselves

“While we respect the Ontario court system and the rule of law, we cannot inure to the court in this case and will not be proceeding any further with the court process as it relates to Frontenac Venture’s motion for an injunction against,” states the letter sent August 14th.

The letter, signed by Shabot Obaadjiwan Chief Doreen Davis and Ardoch Algonquin co-Chief Paula Sherman, calls on the province to impose an immediate moratorium on uranium exploration in the area near Shabot Lake.

“Uranium exploration threatens the land and thus our health, well-being and cultural survival,” reads the letter.

The Algonquins also asked the province to negotiate with their First Nations governments regarding the use, management and conservation of the site, which they say consists of ancestral lands that they never surrendered to the Crown.

They proposed a meeting between the province, federal and First Nations representatives during the Week of August 20th at their protest camp in North Frontenac Township.

“Ontario’s failure to take appropriate and timely action has led to the current unfortunate circumstances and we look to the Government of Ontario to take swift action to resolve this matter outside the courts, “ states the letter.

The disputed site consists of a combination of private and Crown land, which is subject to land claims negotiations.

The First Nations say that the government of Ontario, which granted the mineral rights to the company, failed to adequately consult and accommodate the Algonquins before granting the mineral rights.

In a June 23rd statement by the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, they cite numerous Supreme Court of Canada decisions that the duty to consult “remains a morally and legally binding duty” that is “part of a process of fair dealing and reconciliation” with affected aboriginal people where aboriginal rights or title are in play.

NDP environment critic Peter Tabuns said Premier McGuinty should respect the rights of the Ardoch Algonquin and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations and place an immediate moratorium on uranium exploration in the region.

“Why is it so hard for Dalton McGuinty to stand up for fairness and a clean environment?” asked Tabuns. “The Ontario government could have and should have resolved this issue a long time ago. Instead Dalton McGuinty has dithered and delayed.”

McGuinty has refused to say whether he plans to intervene in the dispute.

“Dalton McGuinty promised to stand up for First Nations and the environment. He’s failed on both counts,” said Tabuns.
The temporary injunction technically took affect on Thursday August 16th. It required the First Nations protesters to leave the protest site protesters to leave the site by Friday, August 17th. But the OPP said they never seen the injunction that was apparently sent electronically.

In a clarification to the parties, he judge said the temporary ruling he made didn’t order the protesters to leave the protest site, as the lawyers for Frontenac had believed and did not say how much power the OPP should have in enforcing the order. The OPP said they were reluctant to take any action that might jeopardize their relations with the Algonquins.