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Native Leader Serving Six Months for Opposing Mine

March 16, 2008

Native Leader Serving Six Months for Opposing Mine

Supporters call Algonquin leader a "political prisoner"

by Chris Arsenault

The blockade was erected in the summer of 2007 to stop Frontenac Ventures from drilling for uranium on unceded First Nations territory.

Photo: Megan Hughes

Algonquin community leader Robert Lovelace had never been charged with an offence, but when a uranium company began prospecting for radioactive ore on unceded First Nations land without engaging in consultation, he decided to take action and organized a non-violent blockade.

On February 15, Judge Cunningham of Ontario's Superior Court sentenced Lovelace to six months in jail for contempt of court and fined him $50,000 for his involvement in the peaceful protest.

Chief Paula Sherman, elected leader of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, a small community about 110 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, where the controversial uranium prospecting is taking place, calls Robert Lovelace "a political prisoner."

"It seems like a very heavy sentence," said Jamie Kneen of Mining Watch Canada, a non-governmental watchdog. "If the court had issued a trespassing charge, there could have been an argument about who was really trespassing."

The territory in question involves mainly Crown land that is subject to ongoing land-claim negotiations between First Nations and the provincial and federal governments.

In September 2007, an Ontario provincial court issued Frontenac Ventures, the mining company, an interlocutory injunction ordering protestors from Ardoch and Sharbot Lake First Nations, along with their non-native allies, to vacate the Robertsville camp. The camp is the only feasible entry point to a 30,000-acre wilderness tract in Frontenac County, where the company has its prospecting license. Lovelace and other activists violated that order.

"The source of this conflict is the Ontario Mining Act, which allows companies to stake land and prospect without consultation with private land owners or other users, including First Nations," said Kneen. Lovelace and other activists argue their constitutional rights were violated by the lack of consultation.

People living on or near the exploration site discovered their land was being taken almost two years ago. There were no community meetings or information sessions about the uranium exploration. "It started on private land when a cottager saw trees being cut and started protesting the development," said Kneen. A few months later it became clear that some of the land being staked was disputed territory.

"Uranium mining has no record other than environmental destruction and negative health issues," said Doreen Davis, chief of the Shabot Lake First Nation. "Uranium can't be stored safely," said Davis, who will be sentenced on March 18 for participating in the blockade. She is under court order not to talk about the dispute with Frontenac.

"I do know that we have communities from Kingston to Ottawa on our side against uranium mining in this district," said Davis. "A huge group of settlers, that's what they call themselves, have been working with us, pounding the pavement and educating people about this. I think it is unique to have aboriginal and non-aboriginal people standing shoulder-to-shoulder like this."

The federal government has yet to get involved in this case and Ontario's provincial government has only been reluctantly and peripherally involved, according to Kneen.

Not much is known about the company at the centre of the dispute. "Frontenac is a private company, so they don't have to file any disclosure," said Kneen. "Aside from the president and their lawyer, no one knows who they are or where they get their money."

The company's website has only one page and a press release. Frontenac's president, George White, did not return calls. The website says the company "is committed to participating in any efforts of Ontario and the First Nations' to consult in good faith," but Ardoch Chief Paula Sherman isn't convinced.

"No consideration was given to the circumstances leading to our actions," said Sherman in a statement following Lovelace's sentencing. "The testimony given under oath by Robert Lovelace outlined Algonquin Law and the corresponding responsibilities of Algonquin people with respect to human activity in our territory," wrote Sherman, who was fined $15,000 during the court case for breaking the injunction that prohibited protests on land being explored by Frontenac.

Because the company obtained a court order against protestors rather than filing trespassing charges, the judge was not required to consider arguments regarding historical precedent or Algonquin legal codes when making the decision. "It's a way of avoiding the core issues," said Kneen.

After a decade of low prices, the spot price of uranium has increased drastically in recent years, from $43 per pound in 2006, to $75 today.

As oil prices rise, countries have re-started old nuclear reactors and countries like South Africa, India and China have ambitious nuclear-power plans on the horizon. UBS, a financial services company, predicts uranium will hit $110 per pound by 2010.

These developments don't sit well with Dr. Mark Winfield, a Canadian nuclear expert. "Existing [uranium] mines in northern Saskatchewan have caused severe contamination through heavy metals like arsenic, and long-lived radionuclides, along with conventional pollutants," said Winfield.

In 2004, Health Canada concluded that effluent from uranium mines meets the definition of a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Canada is the world's largest supplier of uranium and Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to increase exports in his bid to transform the country into an "energy superpower."

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was very clear that nuclear [energy] can't compete economically," said Winfield. "The potential health and environmental impacts of uranium mining are not worth the risks."

A version of this article appeared on Inter Press Service

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Comments

others in jail now too

just the other day six other native leaders in ontario were jailed, also for six months each, also for standing up against mining on traditional native territory

somewhere 600km north of thunder bay, big trout lake aka Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug ... chief Donny Morris along with the deputy chief and other councillors were all jailed, and the community is nearly bankrupt from all the lawyers and court fees

This is just in my

This is just in my opinion.

I believe yes Bob Lovelace is a political prisoner, and no one should have gone to jail at this time.
But please give it a break about Ardoch. A community that can not prove that it is a Native Community.
Through fund raising (Ardoch) has over 17,000 dollars in the bank before Bob Lovelace was thrown in jail. They were at the site very few at a time,
and most days no one from Ardoch was there. The Chief OPP Officer Randy Cota stated that the funds raised for the site were used for his community center.
In fact the people that were at the site every day since the start were the Shabat People not Ardoch.
Paula Sherman lied to the court that she had to be out of jail for her children. Again give me a break.
Paula's daughters are age 13 and 20. The 13 year old is with her dad in the U.S.A Paula doesn't see her now. The other daughter has a child of her own.
She still has her job and now through lies and deceit is getting others to pay her fine's.
Look at any picture the news has taken who is there the people of Shabot. In fact the picture here, the only people you see are from Shabot.
Yes Ardoch was there and riped off the funds that were given in good faith by people who wanted to help,
But please stop making them out to be some kind of hero's, they are not.
They both were given a choice Bob said he wanted to go to jail, Paula lied to the court about why she could not go to court, some hero's you picked.
Bottom line they are frauds. Ask them to prove that they are what they say they are... Ardoch can't. The provincial government knows this.

But this is IMO

Responding to Just in

Responding to Just in my:
Whatever the case may be, uranium mining has proven to be nothing but toxic and an ecosystem destroyer to all biota. Let's not start about the human impact. Canada needs to simply quit valuing resources that 'kill'. Energy powerhouse? What's the value of that when the costs are incomprehensible? I say countries need to develop their own sources of energy and people need to create a consciousness of the amount of energy they use.
that's my 2 cents

Responding to Just in (2)

"Whatever the case may be, uranium mining has proven to be nothing but toxic and an ecosystem destroyer to all biota."

Exactly ... and these waters here are the headwaters for the Mississippi River, which flows to the Ottawa River and all the way down into the States and out into the Gulf of Mexico. What kind of impact do you think a Uranium mine and it's tailings will have on that?

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