MAC/20: Mines and Communities

OPP hesitates after judge's ruling; Police take no immediate action on uranium mine blockade

Published by MAC on 2007-08-29

OPP hesitates after judge's ruling; Police take no immediate action on uranium mine blockade

Frank Armstrong, The Whig,

29th August 2007

A group of natives and police officers huddled inside a screened tent yesterday to discuss a judge's order to remove protesters barricading a proposed uranium site near Sharbot Lake.

All eyes were fixed on Insp. Garry MacPherson, head of the OPP's Aboriginal Relations Team, as he spoke to the group in slow, measured words.

Dozens of non-native onlookers crowded around the tent's perimeter to listen to the man in the dress shirt and tie and to the native leaders around him.

MacPherson arrived yesterday morning at the scene of the blockade by local Algonquins who have been preventing a uranium prospecting company from entering the site since June 29.

A judge on Monday ordered the Algonquins to leave the site or risk being forced off by police.

MacPherson said OPP lawyers haven't gone over the written order, which was released Monday, and didn't yet have any plans to act. If it's determined the OPP must follow the judge's order, the OPP will warn the protesters ahead of time, he said.

"We're not going to sneak in. We're not going to come in en masse or anything like that," he told the Algonquins around him.

The hour-long meeting involved three OPP officers, including MacPherson, and six Algonquins, leaders of the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations. It was held in the form of a traditional First Nations pipe ceremony and telling circle, a native tradition that is meant to provide courage and encourage people to speak the truth. The person who is speaking holds an eagle feather, which is passed from person to person.

A few metres away, more than 30 cars lined both sides of the road, the vehicles of dozens of area residents and Algonquins who had heard the news about the judge's order and came to lend their support.

The Algonquins took over the entrance to the site between Clarendon Station and Mississippi Station on June 29, the national day of aboriginal action.

Oakville-based Frontenac Ventures has been prospecting for uranium there, but has been blocked from entering by the Algonquins who fear a uranium mine could destroy the region's water table.

They say the provincial government shouldn't have allowed Frontenac Ventures to pros-pect there before consulting with them because the land belongs to them.

According to an agreement signed by the British in 1873, any land not sold to or surrendered to the Crown belongs to their native allies.

Frontenac Ventures is suing the Algonquins for $77 million and is seeking a court order that would permanently force the protesters off their land.

Last week, Ontario Superior Court judge Gordon Thomson issued a temporary order for the Algonquins to remove all their gear from the site, but didn't specifically say they must go.

He also didn't authorize the provincial police to remove anyone who disobeyed in hopes the two sides would work out a solution.

After it became apparent neither side would negotiate, Thomson issued the interim injunction, which tells the protesters to leave and authorizes police to arrest or remove anyone who contravenes the order.

Algonquins and non-natives yesterday said they won't let Frontenac Ventures onto the site and said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty must step up to the plate to end the standoff.

"We will keep this as peaceful as possible, but we will not be pulling down the barricade," said Shabot Obaadjiwan chief Doreen Davis.

A spokesperson from the premier's office said yesterday they could not comment specifically on the Clarendon mine site case as it is before the court.

Some protesters voiced fears of a repeat of Ipperwash or Caledonia, where native land claims disputes have led to violence.

In Caledonia, police, natives and non-native protesters have clashed over a four-month aboriginal blockade to protest a housing development that was being built on land local natives claimed as their own.

During the 1995 Ipperwash crisis in Ipperwash Provincial Park, several members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the park in order to assert their claim to the land. The occupation led to a violent confrontation between protesters and the OPP, who killed protester Dudley George.

MacPherson said the OPP have learned from those two experiences and don't intend to repeat history.

He told the protesters that the interim injunction could probably arrive in the hands of a sheriff within a day and at some point the sheriff would visit the site.

"That may be today," he said. "If that does occur, our intent would be simply to maintain the peace for everybody and that the order would be read, period."

MacPherson wouldn't speak to reporters after the meeting.

Snow Road resident Carolyn Hudson, a United Church minister, said she's impressed by the diplomatic efforts of the provincial police. "It was very reassuring to hear the OPP talking about the need for communication before anything happens," said Hudson, who has helped lead a letter-writing campaign to politicians.

Harold Perry, honourary chief of the Ardoch Algonquins, said he's pleased that the OPP have kept open lines of communication, but he's wary of what's to come.

"It's great to have those conversations and dialogue going on, but at the same time, we can't be totally trusting of what they say," Perry said. "We have to assume they're going to come in and try to move us out."

He hopes this struggle will go more smoothly than the last time local Algonquins asserted their native rights.

In the 1980s, when the federal government decided to allow a Manitoba businessman to harvest the wild rice plants that the local Algonquins had harvested by hand for centuries, hundreds of people came together to block the access roads.

Tensions mounted and police arrived in the small community of Ardoch by the dozens.

"There was a lot of hostility and pushing and shoving," Perry said. Police brought two helicopters, hired tow trucks and brought in paddy wagons to haul people away, recalled Perry.

Nonetheless, the Algonquins held their ground for 27 days and in 1982 the federal government reversed its decision.

The hearing for the permanent injunction application will begin Sept. 20.

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