In February, 2008 Justice Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court sentenced Robert Lovelace, former Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, to 6 months in jail because he refused to end his peaceful protest against uranium exploration on Algonquin land. The government of Ontario had refused to consult with the Algonquins before approving the aggressive exploration program in eastern Ontario.
In addition to jail, Lovelace was fined $25,000, his community was fined $10,000 and Chief Paula Sherman $15,000.
A few weeks after Lovelace was jailed, six leaders of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwg (KI) were sentenced to six months in prison for their peaceful opposition to drilling for platinum on their traditional lands in northern Ontario.
Judge Cunningham ignored all of the arguments made by the Algonquins’ on the need for the Court to enforce the government’s obligation to consult. Cunningham said the only thing he was interested in was enforcing the rights of the mining company to blast and drill, and that he would jail any protesters who opposed the illegal exploration.
On May 28, 2008 a three member panel the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the sentences and freed Lovelace and the KI 6. In their decision the Court blamed Ontario’s "sweeping" Mining Act, which allows mining companies to conduct aggressive exploration, including removing trees, blasting, drilling, trenching and the construction of roads on First Nations’ land, without any consultations or environmental assessment.
The Court also criticized the McGuinty government for ignoring repeated requests by the Algonquins for consultations and instead supporting the jailing of Mr. Lovelace and the punitive fines imposed on the community and its leaders.
The Court of Appeal also expressed serious concern that Justice Cunningham ignored numerous Supreme Court decisions which require governments to consult with affected First Nation communities before approving industrial activities which could affect their rights. The Court said that Cunningham should have ensured that Ontario had consulted with the Algonquins before ordering them to end their protest and then jailing them when they continued to demand consultations in defiance of his injunction.
The mining company, Frontenac Ventures Corporation, applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal, arguing that the Court of Appeal’s decision amounts to a "license to blockade".
Frontenac argued that the Canadian mining industry could collapse if the Supreme Court did not overturn the Ontario Court of Appeal’s "lenient" approach to Aboriginal blockades and injunctions.
The Supreme Court has now dismissed Frontenac’s appeal, with costs.
"This is an important victory for civil rights and the rule of law," said Robert Lovelace.
"The government will no longer be able to ignore its legal responsibilities while we are jailed for trying to uphold the law. We will continue to resist uranium mining and exploration and we call on the government to finally begin consultations with us so that further conflict and litigation can be avoided. We do not understand why they continue to refuse to consult with us in spite of several court orders."