FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Quebec judge imprisons Algonquin Chief for two months for peaceful protest: Crown asks for one year to send “clear message” to impoverished community
Kitiganik/Rapid Lake, Algonquin Territory / – On Thursday December 4th a Quebec judge sentenced Barriere Lake Acting Chief Benjamin Nottaway to forty-five days in jail, in addition to fifteen already served in pre-trial detention, for participating in peaceful blockades intended to draw attention to violations of Barriere Lake’s rights by the Canadian and Quebec governments.
Barriere Lake has been demanding that Canada and Quebec honour signed agreements and that Canada appoint an observer to witness and respect the outcome of a new leadership selection in accordance with Barriere Lake’s Customary Governance Code.
“It’s shameful that the government of Quebec would rather throw me in jail than fulfill their legal obligations by implementing signed agreements,” said Acting Chief Nottaway, a father of six who passed his twenty-eighth birthday in jail last Thursday. “Meanwhile, the Government of Canada continues to interfere in our internal affairs while trying to wash its hands of responsibility for this situation.”
Nottaway was charged with three counts of mischief and breach of conditions stemming from March blockades on Barriere Lake’s access road and a November blockade on highway 117 outside the community’s reserve in Northern Quebec. Another blockade in October was violently dismantled by Quebec riot police, who used tear-gas on a crowd that included Elders, youth, and children. More than 40 members of the community of 450 have been charged for these actions.
“Quebec has now joined the company of Ontario, which put the leaders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation and Ardoch Algonquin First Nation behind bars for peaceful protest. It seems like the provinces’ preferred method for dealing with our rights is to use the police and the courts to punish us until we forget about them,” said Marylynn Poucachiche, a community spokesperson who was arrested during the November blockade.
Crown Attorney France Deschamps asked Judge Jules Barriere for a sentence of 12 months, saying a “clear message” was required “to make sure Nottaway has no desire to do this again, and to discourage the group – because his supporters are waiting to hear what happens here.” Judge Barriere noted that the Crown’s request was “partly illegal,” as 6 months is the maximum possible sentence for summary convictions. But he agreed with Deschamps that a prison sentence was necessary, saying it was “important to pass a clear message to the community.”
“The only message the Canadian and Quebec governments are sending is that they are willing to criminalize our community and split apart our families in order to avoid implementing precedent-setting agreements and respecting our leadership customs,” added Nottaway.
Barriere Lake wants Canada and Quebec to uphold signed agreements, dating back to the 1991 Trilateral Agreement, a landmark sustainable development and resource co-management agreement praised by the United Nations and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Canada has been in breach of the agreement since 2001. Quebec signed a complementary Bilateral agreement in 1998, but has stalled despite the 2006 recommendations of two former Quebec Cabinet Ministers, Quebec special representative John Ciaccia and Barriere Lake special representative Clifford Lincoln, that the agreement be implemented.
On March 10th, 2008, the Canadian government rescinded recognition of Acting Chief Benjamin Nottaway and his Council and recognized individuals from a minority faction whom the Barriere Lake Elder’s Council says were not selected in accordance with their Customary Governance Code. On March 2nd and 3rd, community members had set up blockades on their access road to prevent members of this minority faction from entering the reservation, anticipating the Canadian government would try to illegally interfere in Barriere Lake’s internal customary governance for the third time in 12 years.
In 2007, Quebec Superior Court Judge Rejean Paul issued a report that concluded that the current faction recognized by the federal government was a “small minority” that “didn’t respect the Customary Governance Code” in an alleged leadership selection in 2006 . The federal government recognized this minority faction after they conducted another alleged leadership selection in January 2008, even though an observer’s report the government relied on stated there was no “guarantee” that the Customary Governance Code was respected .
The Algonquin Nation Secretariat, the Tribal Council representing three Algonquin communities including Barriere Lake, continues to recognize and work with Customary Chief Benjamin Nottaway and his Council.
Collectif de Solidarité Lac Barrière