Algonquin leader fined, jailed six months; Second uranium mining protester also fined but released on 'compassionate grounds'
Posted By Sue Yanagisawa Whig-Standard Court Reporter
The lawyer for a uranium prospecting company, frustrated by an Algonquin-led protest that disrupted the company's plans for test drilling north of Sharbot Lake last summer, said it gave him "no pleasure to ask for incarceration."
Yet Neal J. Smitheman asked for exactly that this week, the maximum jail sentence possible in fact, and substantial fines against Algonquin leaders who refused to 'purge' contempt charges by formally promising not to interfere in the future with his client, Oakville-based Frontenac Ventures Corp.
Yesterday morning, Superior Court Justice Douglas Cunningham gave Smitheman what he had asked for.
After observing that "they have not only engaged in a full-scale occupation of the Clarendon site, they have counselled others to do so as well," and telling those present in the courtroom that "compliance with the orders of this court are not optional," Cunningham ordered Ardoch Algonquin First Nation co-chief Paula Sherman and community spokesman Robert Lovelace jailed for six months.
Cunningham said the sentences could be discharged at any point if the two leaders agreed to purge their contempt. Until then, however, he directed the OPP to take them into custody.
About an hour later, Sherman returned to the courtroom with lawyer Christopher Reid, who represents the Ardoch Algonquins, and Smitheman told the judge that he and Reid had reached "an accommodation" on her behalf that was "motivated on compassionate grounds."
Reid was blunter.
"Ms. Sherman is sole support for three children and she will lose them if she goes to jail," he told judge.
Consequently, she had agreed to enter into an undertaking promising to comply in future with the "letter and spirit" of Cunningham's Sept. 27 injunction. The injunction requires that Frontenac Ventures have "unfettered and unobstructed access" to its mineral exploration claim - about 30,000 acres of Crown and private land in North Frontenac.
It specifically bars the Algonquin communities living in the area and "persons unknown" from "interfering with, disrupting or hindering" Frontenac Ventures, its employees, agents or contractors. Having agreed on the record to future compliance with the injunction, a process known as purging contempt, Cunningham discharged the custodial portion of his order against Sherman and she was not sent to jail.
At the precise moment she was being dealt with in the second-floor courtroom, however, Lovelace was being placed in the Quinte Detention Centre transport van at the rear of the Frontenac County Court House. Chanting and ululating from a group of supporters, who had gone outside, could be heard faintly through the windows on the north wall of the court.
The sounds of outrage had been much louder, ringing in fact, an hour earlier when Cunningham's initial pronouncement of sentence was greeted by loud jeers of "Shame! Shame!" from the packed spectators' gallery. At its peak, a dark-haired woman from among the non-native supporters of the Algonquin leaned across the bar of the court, behind lawyers representing the attorney general, and berated the judge.
"This court is participating in the biggest public health disaster this country has ever seen. Do you understand that?" she yelled up at the judge.
Cunningham paused briefly, but didn't have her removed. Instead, he continued with sentencing, ordering that Lovelace pay a fine of $25,000, Sherman a fine of $15,000 and the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation $10,000 for past conduct. He set additional fines of $2,000 a day for every day they're not in compliance in the future and ended by ordering the Ardoch Algonquin statement of defence struck.
They are precluded from bringing any application or motion before him until their contempt is purged.
Reid, putting it in ordinary language after the proceedings ended, said "they are booted out of the court."
What that means in the short term, he said, is that his clients won't be allowed to mount their core defence in March when they return for a second round in these proceedings.
"The statement of defence," he explained, "challenges the constitutional validity of the Mining Act."
The perversity of the situation, he added, is that his clients are being punished for resorting to direct action instead of relying on the courts. But "they can't come to court now. Self-help is all that's left to them now."
At this point, Reid said he's talking to his clients about an appeal.
Cunningham, in explaining his reasoning for the sentence, said that the adoption of self-help flaunts the rule of law and can't be tolerated because "respect for our court system evaporates and our entire society suffers as a result."
His sentence, he added, had to send a message to others who might consider similar action.
Respect for the court system wasn't exactly inspired in the largely partisan crowd of spectators who watched as the two prisoners were taken into custody, however.
After Cunningham rose, those who weren't attached to Frontenac Ventures or the provincial Ministry of Northern Development and Mines stood en masse and applauded Sherman and Lovelace, some ululating, an expression in sound that can denote sorrow, celebration, honour, defiance or all of them at once.
Gloria Morrison - the wife of Frank Morrison, one of only two non-natives charged in the contempt proceedings - was seething in a quiet and dignified way. Her husband has attended the court case only intermittently when he's been obliged to but she's been a fixture since hearings began last summer.
The Morrisons own 100 acres of managed forest and marshland north of Snow Road, property crossed by the Big Antoine and Little Antoine creeks and a man-made stream, which all flow directly into the Mississippi River. They're opposed to uranium drilling and believe it endangers both the surface and sub-surface waters in the area.
They were devastated when they discovered that Frontenac Ventures had come onto their land without permission sometime in 2006, staked a prospecting claim that covers about 70 per cent of their holding, and that there was nothing they could do about it. According to Frank Morrison, the claim staking alone has destroyed the market value of the property.
It was Gloria Morrison who first alerted the Ardoch Algonquins to the sort of prospecting Frontenac Ventures was doing and asked them to get involved.
She's unhappy that her husband's case - like that of Christian Peacemaker David Milne - was severed from the main action against the Ardoch Algonquin earlier this week.
His Ottawa lawyers weren't provided in advance with essential documents by the Frontenac Ventures legal team, however. Consequently, his case had to be put over to March to allow for proper disclosure.
Gloria Morrison said she's been disillusioned by what she's seen since her involvement in this whole thing began.
At 57, she didn't have any experience with the courts before this, she explained. She had never even experimented with teenage rebellion or hippie culture: "I walked on green lights and picked up garbage off the street. I never smoked and don't drink."
She admits she had certain expectations about how things were supposed to work for law-abiding citizens. But after witnessing this case unfold, "it has not solved anything," she said. "It's painful and it has created a situation where many of us will follow."
Unlike Sherman, all of her children are grown and should it come to that, "I am fully able and willing to go to jail," Morrison said, "and no, I would not apologize either for protecting our air and water."
Reid was clearly upset by the outcome of the sentencing.
"I was expecting there would be a period of incarceration. I don't think anybody expected six months," and described it as "pretty draconian," he said outside the courtroom.
He was also unhappy with Sherman's predicament and the pressure such a lengthy sentence had imposed on her. "If her kids were now adults, she'd be in jail right now," he said, "but she can't deprive them of a mother."
As for the fines "you might as well make it $10 million, as far as the ability to pay goes for these people."
Bluntly put, Reid said, "Bob Lovelace is a political prisoner. He's done nothing violent. He hasn't hurt anybody. He's in jail because of his beliefs."
Article ID# 906107