[JURIST] The Court of Appeal for Ontario [court website] ruled Monday that sentences imposed on seven aboriginal protesters in March for opposing mining company operations on community land were too severe. In February, Robert Lovelace, a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFN) [official website], was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt after he refused to comply with a court order allowing Frontenac Ventures Corporation [corporate website] to prospect for uranium on traditional AAFN lands in Ontario. In March, six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KIFN) [official website] were sentenced [order, PDF] to six months' imprisonment each for contempt of court after they impeded the access of Platinex Inc. [corporate website], an oil drilling company, to exploration property on traditional First Nations land. Lovelace and the so-called "K6" were released in May after their sentences were reduced to time served. In Frontenac Ventures Corporation v. Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, released Monday, the court explained [judgment, PDF] that:
[I]mprisonment, far from being a meaningful sanction for the community, had the effect of pitting the community against the justice system. That the court found it necessary to imprison the leaders of the AAFN simply serves to emphasize the gulf between the dominant culture’s sense of justice and this First Nation’s sense of justice. … In summary, the appellants’ character and circumstances, their actual conduct, and the difficult legal context within which it occurred, should have counted as significant mitigation when sentences were imposed on them.
The court applied the same reasoning in its decision to release the six protestors in Platinex, Inc. v. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation [judgment, PDF]. Canadian Press has more.
The Frontenac and Platinex cases both involve mineral exploration activities on traditional aboriginal lands falling outside the First Nations' federally-recognized territory. In June 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled a series of reforms [JURIST report] designed to address a backlog of claims from aboriginal groups seeking redress for land seized by the Canadian government. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled [JURIST report] that Canadian governments must consult with the Assembly of First Nations [official website] before developing land claimed by aboriginal groups.