Thursday, July 27, 2006

Seperation Lake Bridge, Ontario

On Wednesday July 26th at approximately 9:30 PM, nine people were arrested in a police raid of a logging-road blockade. On Tuesday, July 25th, a blockade was started at the Seperation Lake Bridge, the border of Grassy Narrows' traditional territory, at approximately 2:00 PM.

The blockade, led by Grassy Narrows community members Bonnie, Chrissy, and Adrienne Swain was peaceful, and was attended by around fifteen people, including four children. At 9:30 PM on Wednesday, approximately 30 police officers approached the blockade without warning, and arrested nine of the eleven adults who were present. All of the arrests took place in front of the children who were present: Shayne Swain, 6 years old; Robyn Swain, 14 months old; Tanisha Swain, 4 months old; and Corissa Swain, 5 years old. The only two adults who were not arrested were Adrienne Swain, mother of Shayne and Robyn, and Shelagh Pizey-Allen, who was taking care of the children. Chrissy Swain, mother of Tanisha and Corissa, was arrested by the OPP in front of her children. Eight of the nine arrestees were female. Several of the arrestees were pushed forcefully to the ground and dragged to the paddywagons. The OPP seperated the more vulnerable arrestees, putting the white Canadian females in one paddywagon, and putting the only male, a female American, a female Aboriginal, and a female Canadian of colour in the other vehicle. At the time of this update (Thursday, July 27th, 6:00 AM), 6 of the 9 arrestees have been released. All have been charged with two counts of mischief. The conditions of their release state that they must leave the Kenora area within 24 hours.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Kenora City Hall

1 Main St. South
Kenora ON P9N 3X2


Ontario Provincial Police
615 James St. South
2nd Floor
Thunder Bay ON P7E 6P6

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you with regards to the brutality shown Neecha (Theresa) Dupuis by Kenora police officers, and the charges of mischief facing Marla Brown, Assam Shahzad Ahmad, Rocio Valasquez, Julie Anna Lachance, Carman Teeple Hopkins, Richard Crawford, and Geri Gray following the blockade of the Trans-Canada Highway on the 13th of July, 2006, for the protection of Anishnabe traditional forest.

Neecha accompanied Richard Crawford and Geri Gray to the Kenora police department, and while her friend was inside, Neecha wrote down the license numbers of some vehicles in the parking lot. She was confronted by six officers. There was an escalation of violence when she refused to give them the paper she had used to record the numbers. The Ontario Provincial Police were excessively aggressive. Six or seven very large OPP officers surrounded her to remove first her mother’s medicine blanket and a white eagle feather, then the Unity Flag. Neecha was subdued by six or seven officers, who used pain compliance holds. In addition, one twisted her arm and one twisted her wrist to get the Unity Flag away from her, and a third officer grabbed her by the neck and forced her head down between her legs.

The arrests made the day following the blockade were racist and targeted people of colour and Six Nations forest defenders. Please consider my letter as a formal complaint of police misconduct, and file it as such. I encourage you to continue the investigation of racist brutality shown by the OPP, which is only more oppressive due to the fact that officers at the blockade promised not to press charges relating to the protest.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Protesters condemn attacks on Lebanon

150 demonstrators at city hall call for ceasefire
By David Kuxhaus

About 150 people gathered in the main courtyard at city hall yesterday to condemn Israel's attack on southern Lebanon, which has left more than 300 dead and thousands injured. They called for an immediate ceasefire to the hostilities and vented their anger at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earlier described Israel's response to the capture of two of its soldiers as "measured." Israel began the offensive after Hezbollah crossed into Israel and captured the two soldiers on July 12. Many demonstrators carried placards, some of which read, "End Israeli Terror." "We hope to bring to light and into the public profile the insidious and violent action of Israel against the innocent people of Lebanon and Palestine," said Krishna Lalbiharie of the Canada Palestine Support Network. The group, along with the Canadian Peace Alliance, organized similar rallies across Canada yesterday. About 30 pro-Israel demonstrators turned up at the Winnipeg rally. Some argued that agreeing to a ceasefire would be supporting terrorism. Others, like Ken McGhie, waved Israeli flags. "We need to stand with Israel," said McGhie. "Israel has a right to defend itself." There were a couple of heated conversations between [me and Michael Welch versus] the opposing groups, but for the most part it was a peaceful rally. "I'm here as a crusader for social rights and justice," said Michael Welch. "Lebanon did not attack Israel. You cannot punish Lebanese children." Canadians have been among the casualties, including four children from Montreal who were visiting the country with their family. Their names were read aloud at the rally. There were several speakers at yesterday's event, including Dr. Ghassan Joundi, a Winnipeg dermatologist who was born in Lebanon and came to Canada 25 years ago. Three weeks ago, his wife and 15-year-old daughter left for a vacation with family in Beirut. Like so many others, they have been trying desperately to leave the country. Yesterday morning, Joundi finally got a phone call from his wife telling him that the two had arrived safely in Turkey after a rocky 15-hour boat trip. "I am very happy," Joundi said in an interview. He said his wife and daughter are expected to fly to Montreal as early as today and the head home to Winnipeg. Joundi said it's difficult to watch his homeland reduced to rubble. "It is very painful and disturbing... (to see) our beloved country attacked and destroyed in this barbaric way," Joundi told the demonstration, adding that he prays for peace. Thousands of Canadians took to the streets yesterday in cities across the country. Harper was the major target of criticism in Ottawa and elsewhere. Thousands of protesters gathered on Parliament Hill to denounce the government's response to the burgeoning violence in Lebanon. The Ottawa demonstration, organized by the Coalition of Arab Canadian Professionals and Community Associations, attracted about 2,500 members of the Lebanese community, labour unions and other supporters. Many waved Canadian, Lebanese or Palestinian flags, while others carried placards reading "We need a Prime Minister, not a puppet" and "Mr. Harper... we hold you responsible for Israeli murder of Canadians." In Montreal, home to Canada's largest community of Lebanese descent, roughly 1,000 protesters made their way through downtown streets as part of the International Day of Action against Israeli Aggression. They, too, expressed anger at Canada's prime minister, calling out "Harper, you are an accomplice."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

3 stories

Outsiders dominate list of protesters charged
Nine charged following highway blockade
By Mike Aiken
Kenora Daily Miner and News
Wednesday July 19, 2006

The OPP Kenora detachment has released the names of nine people charged following last week’s demonstration that closed the Trans-Canada Highway for most of a day. Only one name on the list was from Northwestern Ontario [Many protesters came from Winnipeg, a 3-hour-drive away!], supporting statements by community leaders the unrest was caused by activists imported for the occasion. “Some outsiders from San Francisco and Toronto used a volatile issue to their advantage,” said Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield Monday. “They broke the law and they’ll be dealt with accordingly.” Last Thursday morning, traffic normally using the Kenora Bypass was rerouted through the city for about 12 hours by the blockade. Demonstrators at the blockade included those attending a nearby gathering. The Rainforest Action Network and ForestEthics had organized a gathering of about 100 supporters from across North America, which took place near the Grassy Narrows First Nation road blockade north of the city against clear-cutting at the entry to the Whiskey Jack Forest. On Tuesday, Chief Simon Fobister said his community supported the protesters and their right to free speech. “The federal and provincial governments need to demonstrate a higher level of commitment to treat natural resources as a top priority. Our people have lived with the consequences of industry development causing environmental damage. It is time that our people shared in the benefits,” Fobister said. Media releases issued last weekend claimed police - who made the arrests the day following the blockade - were racist and targeted people of colour and aboriginals, when laying charges. A news release from the Rainforest Action Network suggested differential treatment for white people from visible minorities. A representative of the California-based group reserved comment, pending further discussions with those at the scene. OPP spokesperson S/Sgt. Leslie Rice said there hadn’t been any formal complaints of police misconduct filed as of Tuesday. The police press release issued late Tuesday said the investigation was ongoing. A member of ForestEthics said she had a videotape of the officers taken at the blockade as they were promising not to press charges relating to the protest. However, calls requesting more information about the video have not been returned. Facing charges of mischief are: Marla Brown, 25, of Toronto; Assam Shahzad Ahmad, 21, of Cambridge; Theresa Dupuis, 33, of Thunder Bay; Rocio Valasquez, 18, of Oakville; Julie Anna Lachance, 18, of Hamilton; Carman Teeple Hopkins, 21, of Toronto. Three from Six Nations First Nations are charged with mischief and related offences. Richard Crawford, 35, was also charged with breaching a recognizance. Shawn Anderson, 28, of Oshweken, also faces a charge of breaching probation, and Geri Gray of Kettle Point will also answer one count of assault. All are scheduled to appear in Kenora provincial court Sept. 18.

OPP denies charges of racism by protesters
By Mike Aiken
Miner and News
Tuesday July 18, 2006

OPP staff denied charges of racism Monday after allegations their officers targeted only First Nations demonstrators from last week’s blockade on the Trans-Canada Highway when charges were laid. Staff Sgt. Leslie Rice from the communications unit in Orillia said allegations only aboriginal people were charged in connection with the incident weren’t true. “That’s not the case,” she stated. “I’m not sure where they’re getting that information from.” Environmentalists joined with treaty rights activists last Thursday when they blocked the highway west of Airport Road, as part of a long-standing dispute over clear-cutting on traditional lands. Press releases issued by environmental groups over the weekend included a series of allegations against police. Grassy Narrows resident and activist Judy Da Silva said the officers had committed an act of war by raiding the First Nation without permission, so they could lay charges against protesters. The Rainforest Action Network said police were racist, since they only arrested aboriginal people. A third release said a woman traveling with a Six Nations delegation miscarried after she was arrested, because the OPP had used excessive force. Rice said the police force had started an investigation into the conduct of their members, and she didn’t have any information on the specific allegations. About 100 supporters from across North America had gathered at the Slant Lake blockade site near Grassy Narrows last week, and they blocked the Highway 17A bypass around Kenora for about 12 hours last Thursday. Nine people were charged following the blockade on the highway. They have been charged with mischief. Const. Sue Cain, acting communications officer for the Kenora OPP detachment, said the officers didn’t go onto the First Nation to lay the charges, they didn’t target only aboriginal protesters and she denied charges that officers denied medical help for a pregnant woman during her arrest. Grassy Narrows First Nation is located about 90 minutes northeast of Kenora, and it has been the focus of international attention as it deals with both clear-cutting and the lingering effects of mercury contamination in its food supply. OPP staff said they hoped to release a list of names of those charged Tuesday. They have been released pending their next court appearance, scheduled for Sept. 18 in Kenora.

Mischief charges laid as result of highway blockade
By Shelley Bujold
Miner and News
with files from Canadian Press
Monday July 17, 2006

Ontario Provincial Police have charged nine protesters in conjunction with last Thursday’s protest which blocked the Trans-Canada Highway. Activists blocked the Highway 17A bypass north of Kenora for the entire day as nearly 100 people protested clear-cutting taking place near Grassy Narrows First Nation, which they said was also having an impact on their rights as aboriginal people. Ontario Provincial Police made arrests over the weekend, charging nine individuals from various communities across the province with mischief. These people were released pending a court date Sept. 18. The protesters erected a 10-metre metal tripod in the middle of the Trans-Canada and suspended a woman from it. Another woman chained herself to the axle of a logging truck and others chained themselves to barrels filled with cement. The full blockade was taken down Thursday night. A provincial police spokesman on Saturday declined to provide reasons for the charges. Protesters provided conflicting descriptions, but claimed that as many as 30 police cars were involved in stopping vehicles outside the reserve, which is located one hour north of Kenora. A press release from Judy da Silva of Grassy Narrows First Nation stated the OPP came to the site of the Grassy Narrows ongoing blockade at Slant Lake to make the arrests. Organizers of the blockade said they were dumbfounded by the arrests. Kim Fry of environmental group Forest Ethics said the protesters reached an agreement with police that if the blockade was removed by Thursday evening, none of the people involved would be arrested. She said she has videotaped proof that police agreed to the arrangement. The da Silva press release stated some of the arrests are of Six Nations Warriors, who were visiting for the Earth Justice Gathering where discussions of the local environment were the focus. In a press release from the Rainforest Action Network and ForestEthics, who were active in staging Thursday’s protest, said police were targeting aboriginal people in their arrests. “Instead of dealing with the root issues of neglected native land rights the authorities have decided to criminalize dissent and punish peaceful protesters,” said David Sone with the Rainforest Action Network. Judy da Silva, a spokeswoman for the protesters who lives on the Grassy Narrows reserve, said Grassy Narrows protesters have been stopping logging vehicles in that area for several years. ‘‘From our perspective, this has been peaceful all along,’’ da Silva said. ‘‘We’ve had a good relationship with law enforcement officials until now.’’

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Day 44

Two groups of protestors - one from Grand Rapids, the other from South Indian Lake - are camping out at the provincial legislature to protest the impact of a hydroelectric dam constructed more than four decades ago.

"We want compensation from Manitoba Hydro for destroying our community," Nelly Morrisseau said June 14, the ninth day of the camp-out on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. "We will leave when we have an agreement with Manitoba Hydro."

"They did not just destroy the land. They destroyed the way of life," said Morrisseau, a 67-year-old Metis, who is from the area outside of the boundaries of the Grand Rapids First Nation.

She said that people from the First Nation are unhappy also, but they did receive compensation ($5.5 million) for the dam, which construction began on in 1960. The Métis received nothing, said Morrisseau, who explained that her group represented about 500 people. She wasn't revealing the dollar value of their compensation demand, but added that the government has been told what was being sought.

Prior to dam construction, there was limited access to the rest of the world. People were largely self-sufficient, hunting, fishing and gathering food and medicine.

"You can't drink the water any more," adds another one of the camper-protestors, 74-year-old Dorothy Parachuk. "The trees are flooded. There are no more berries. Everything is polluted… We cannot even eat the rabbits anymore because they are not healthy. They are skinny."

Morrisseau says a tremendous amount has changed since the dam was built. The places where many Métis lived have been flooded and the land in areas not flooded has been scarred through construction. Many people have moved away to cities in search of livelihood. Social problems have soared and even the beautiful rapids, which gave the community its name, are gone.

"In 2006, people our age should not have to sit here in the sun," said Morrisseau, who is with the small group of campers whose presence is sometimes bolstered by supporters. After their protest began, they were joined by some protesters from South Indian Lake, who also have unresolved issues relating to Manitoba Hydro.

Last fall the Ovide Mercredi, the recently elected chief at the Grand Rapids First Nation, made news when he and Robbie Buck, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Grand Rapids, staged a sit-in at the base of the dam's spillway partially to protest Manitoba Hydro's announcement that it would open the spillway with only two day's notice, an action that would create problems for fishermen and people wanting to harvest lumber.

In 1992 South Indian Lake was paid $18.8 million, but about half of the 1,500 residents left because of the impact of hydro-electric projects completed in the 1970s.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Big Oil on Trial

By Jeremy Klaszus

When Ottawa Citizen reporter Kelly Patterson heard about new evidence being presented in the lawsuit against Talisman Energy in the U.S. District Court of New York, she set to work. She got on the phone. She researched. For several days, she investigated the latest chapter in a long story about Talisman's controversial involvement in Sudan.

The Citizen published her story on October 22, 2005, almost three years to the day after Talisman CEO Jim Buckee announced his company would be ending its stay in the war-torn country, having been attacked from all sides for its presence there. From 1998 to 2003, the company was a 25 per cent stakeholder in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium that included China's and Malaysia's national oil companies. Talisman sold its holdings to a subsidiary of India's national oil company in 2003.

Patterson's story focused on a slew of previously confidential documents that had recently been made public. The lawsuit had been filed in the New York court on November 8, 2001, by the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and a group of Sudanese citizens and refugees. The suit names Talisman and the Sudanese government as co-defendants, alleging they collaborated "in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against a civilian population" to enhance their "ability to explore and extract oil from areas of southern Sudan."

It continues: "The armed campaign, which...has resulted in massive civilian displacement, the burning of villages, churches and crops, and the extrajudicial killing and enslavement of innocent civilians, is possible only through Defendants' collaboration and the Government's use of equipment and infrastructure, such as vehicles, helicopters, aircraft, roads and airfields, owned, chartered, constructed and/or maintained by Talisman."

Talisman denies the allegations, calling them "baseless" and "demonstrably false." In court papers, Talisman has argued: "It is not sufficient to show that Talisman Energy sometimes provided services to the Government of Sudan, and that it knew or should have known in some general way that the Government of Sudan was abusive of human rights…As a matter of fact, Talisman Energy never rendered any assistance to the Government of Sudan. GNPOC, not Talisman Energy, had facilities in Sudan."

The Sudanese civil war -- fought between the Arab Muslim north and the mostly Christian and animist south -- has raged on and off since the mid-1950s. There was a hiatus in the war from 1972 until 1983, but peace agreements collapsed and fighting broke out again and continued until another peace agreement was signed in 2005. Between 1983 and 2005, an estimated two million people were killed and over four million displaced.

The war was often portrayed as nothing more than a religious and cultural conflict between Muslims and Christians, but human rights groups say it was more about resources than religion. Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found that oil revenues -- including those that came from Talisman -- directly fuelled the war. When the GNPOC pipeline started operating in 1999, oil money poured into Sudanese government coffers. Oil accounted for just over seven per cent of total government revenue in 1999. In 2000, the first full year of production for GNPOC, that number was up to 43 per cent. And as the revenues increased, so did military spending.

Human rights groups also found that civilians were being killed and driven from their homes near oil concessions. Canada's own 1999 fact-finding mission to Sudan found the same things. "…[T]wo things are certain," says the government-commissioned Harker Report, released in 2000 by a delegation led by special envoy John Harker. "First, the gunships and Antonovs [Russian cargo planes used as bombers by the military], which have attacked villages south of the rivers, flew to their targets from the Heglig airstrip in the Talisman concession. Second, it is a prominent perception of southern Sudanese that Talisman, 'the Canadian oil firm,' is in active collaboration with the GOS [Government of Sudan], economically, politically and militarily."

The 300-plus pages Patterson obtained for the Ottawa Citizen had been submitted by the plaintiffs as part of a failed motion to elevate their suit to a class action. The documents include internal company memos and e-mails. Among them is a response to the Harker Report written in 2000 by Mark Reading, Talisman's security adviser at the time, who described the Sudanese military's use of the Heglig airfield¬, which GNPOC had paid to improve. "This bombing most certainly happened...the airstrip was definitely used during this period to conduct war against the South, of that there can be no doubt," he wrote.

The company's response points out that the Sudanese government, not Talisman, owned the Heglig airfield. Furthermore, it asserts, "there is no indication in any of the documents or testimony that during the brief period that Antonov bombers used the government airstrip at Heglig, the Antonovs were being deployed against civilian populations." Talisman argues that the planes were used against rebel groups, which is "conduct not violative of international law."

In a 2000 internal Talisman report made public in the New York court last year, former company security advisor Mark Reading described what an Antonov attack is like. "These bombing runs are extremely terrifying to the people on the ground because they can hear what is trying to kill them but cannot see it," Reading wrote. "A lot of locals refer to this as 'whispering death.' This certainly is not precision bombing and as we know it leads to many accidents. Schools, hospitals and a whole manner of targets have been frequently hit."

In some of the e-mails made public, company employees vividly describe what was happening on the ground in Sudan. "I watched one of their [military] gunships refuel at our company fuel tanks today," says an e-mail dated November 2, 1999, from Talisman employee Larry O'Sullivan. "I have watch [sic] soldiers going to the battle be transported in our company trucks… Nobody can tell me that this oil is not buying more military power."

To any reporters worth the notebooks they write in, these documents had news value. The Alberta press, however, ignored them completely, even though Patterson's story was readily available to the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald for republication, since the Citizen, the Herald and the Journal are all part of the CanWest Global chain.

"I think there were some problems with [the story]," says Charles Frank, the Herald's business editor. "There were some legal issues with it. I think the decision here was that we weren't totally comfortable with that story, so we didn't run it."

The Citizen, however, was comfortable enough to publish it, even after Talisman pressured them to fill the space with something else. "Talisman has a lobbyist who repeatedly phoned the Citizen," says Patterson. "He phoned both the business editor and the editor-in-chief, trying to convince them that we shouldn't run the story."

Talisman responded swiftly once the story was published. David Mann, the company's senior manager of corporate and investor communications, wrote a rebuttal, which the Citizen published. Mann chastised the newspaper for printing "a very select number of excerpts without proper context." He denounced the allegations as "outrageous and implausible" and explained that Talisman was being sued under an arcane law put to "imaginative" use.

The suit is being heard under the US Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), a once-obscure law created in 1789 as part of the Judiciary Act to extend court jurisdiction to non-U.S. citizens who violated international law. Since the late 1990s, the law has been used against U.S. and non-U.S. companies.

"Fortunately for us, human rights law has progressed to a point...where even governments aren't allowed to do anything they want to their own civilians," says Carey D'Avino, the plaintiffs' lawyer. "And since a sovereign is not allowed to commit certain crimes like genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, certainly no private entity is entitled to be absolved from participation or aiding and abetting in those crimes."

Talisman has tried several ways to get the suit thrown out. The company has twice argued in court that corporations, unlike states, are incapable of violating international law. District Judge Allen Schwartz dismissed that argument as illogical and "anachronistic" in March of 2003.

Another argument the company has repeatedly put forward is that it shouldn't be tried in U.S. courts, but in Sudan or Canada. When Talisman argued this in New York, Schwartz noted that an Alberta court would most likely apply "the law of the place where the activity occurred" -- in this case, Sudanese sharia law. "Under Sudanese law, plaintiffs as non-Muslims would enjoy greatly reduced rights," Schwartz wrote in his landmark opinion dated March 19, 2003, three days before he died of a heart attack. He concluded that New York was the most appropriate forum for the suit.

"The case is particularly significant because there's no equivalent to the ATCA in Canada," says Craig Forcese, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "The prospect of ever actually litigating a Talisman-like case in Canada is theoretically possible, but there isn't an easy way of doing it. It would be tough and expensive and would require all sorts of new precedent."

The Canadian government is also a big player in this story, though one wouldn't know it from reading Talisman's 2005 Corporate Responsibility Report. The report says, correctly, that the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the New York court "expressing the U.S. government's view that the lawsuit interferes with U.S./Canada relations."

What the report doesn't say is that Washington filed the statement at Ottawa's -- and ultimately Talisman's -- request. In July of 2005, Toronto Star scribe Rick Westhead reported that Talisman sent a letter to then-Prime Minister Paul Martin's senior foreign policy adviser asking the government to intervene on the company's behalf.

The Canadian embassy dutifully complied with Talisman's request by sending two diplomatic notes to the U.S. Department of State in 2004 and 2005. The second note, dated January 14, 2005, protested the policy ramifications of U.S. courts exercising jurisdiction over a Canadian company. The note says the Talisman suit "creates a 'chilling effect' on Canadian firms engaging in Sudan."

Upon receiving the second note, Washington filed its statement of interest informing the court that the case frustrates Canadian foreign policy. "Canada's judiciary is equipped to consider claims such as those raised here," it read. But the plaintiffs pointed out that Canada's legal system isn't at all sufficiently equipped, and that the Canadian government had consistently "stood mute" on Talisman's involvement in Sudan. District Judge Cote emphatically rejected Talisman's, Ottawa's and Washington's arguments, pointing out that the court had already decided "Canadian courts are not able to entertain civil suits for violations" of international law.

Professor Forcese calls the Canadian government's position "utterly unpersuasive."

"The Canadian government is deeply hypocritical on several levels," he says. "They're hypocritical on the specifics of the Talisman case where, by its own admission in terms of the Harker report from 2000, the Canadian government said this was a bad thing that was going on, did nothing, and now there's some effort to hold Talisman to account and they're actively resisting it. It's quite disturbing."

As the Talisman case draws closer to its tentative trial date of January 2007, it remains to be seen whether the media's silence will be broken. At the Calgary Herald, Frank says sending a reporter to New York to cover the trial wouldn't be out of the question. "We like to view ourselves as reporting on the industry in its entirety, so certainly it would be on the table," he says. "I think it's an interesting story, and I think people are always looking for the story behind the story."

But if the story behind the story is going to be told, news organizations will have to stop sweeping it under the rug and start actually reporting on it. "It's a matter of public interest," says Forcese. "And as a matter of public interest, it deserves comment in the media. It's exactly the sort of issue that needs to be discussed.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A couple of things:


Citizens Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation face a corporate SLAPP suit

The Ontario-based mineral company Platinex has slapped the Ojibwa of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake) First Nation (KIFN) with a $10-billion damage suit for refusing the company permission to drill on territory the KIFN says is its own. KIFN argues that it has never signed away ownership of the land and is pursuing a land-claim settlement. Situated in northwestern Ontario, KIFN is about 580 km north of Thunder Bay. In 1998, Platinex Inc. secured exploratory rights from the Ontario government for 3,580 hectares of land in the area. In November 2005, KIFN called for a moratorium on mining and forestry on its lands. Platinex ignored requests that it vacate KIFN’s territory.

In February, Platinex workers were confronted by KIFN protesters and, later that month, blockades of access roads and landing strips temporarily halted exploration.

In a letter to the Globe and Mail on February 22 Platinex defended its exploration claiming it has “huge value for the world’s environment” due to applications in pollution-regulating equipment.

Following the setting up of blockades, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) increased its presence in the community with seven additional officers. Platinex later raised a few eyebrows when the company hired a foreign mercenary to provide security for the company. According to Platinex lawyer Neil Smitheman, Paul Gladstone, an ex-British soldier, was hired to “assess and manage a potentially … volatile situation.” KIFN spokesperson John Cutfeet asks, “When will the lessons of Ipperwash* be learned?”

In May, Platinex began drilling for platinum-group-elements as part of its exploration of the region. According to a Globe and Mail article, the deposit may be the largest on Turtle Island (Turtle Island is a First Nations' term for North America).

On May 1, Platinex sought legal approval to begin drilling. KIFN filed an injunction for relief on the land in question. Platinex then filed a $10-billion counterclaim against KIFN, Chief Donny Morris, the First Nation council, and others.

KIFN insists that it should have been consulted before drilling began. Platinex has countered with accusations that Chief Morris and the First Nation council have refused to “continue consultation in good faith” and has carried on with exploration unilaterally.

Ontario Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay supports the company and says drilling should continue while the matter is being settled. Critics say Ramsay’s stance is foreclosing on the outcome of any settlement: the “right” of the mining and exploration companies trumps the right of the Original Peoples to their traditional homeland.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is also being criticized for breaking his word to Original Peoples. In a letter written on March 19, 2003, McGuinty promised to ensure environmental responsibility and “full participation by native communities” concerning land-use planning “to provide [for] a sustainable future.”

Chief Morris says the territory is the birthright of the KI community, and it demands to be involved in sharing in the bounty of its land.

KIFN’s struggle has mobilized the 49 First Nation communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). In February, NAN grand chief Stan Beardy expressed solidarity with the KIFN and disappointment with provincial authorities’ disregard for Aboriginal and Treaty rights within NAN territory.

“We had high expectations after the November 2005 Mikisew Supreme Court decision regarding Crown duty to consult and accommodate with First Nations when activities like mining threaten our Aboriginal and Treaty rights,” says Beardy. “The fact Ontario has not implemented this decision in our province sets the tone for First Nation and government relations for resource development in NAN territory.”

“Fifteen years of Supreme Court decisions have yet to be reflected in provincial and federal policies,” says Cutfeet. “Our treaty partners continue to disregard direction from the Supreme Court in dealing with our people.”

According to elder Allan Beardy, of the nearby Muskrat Dam First Nation, about 20 years ago slipshod mining exploration left the area blighted, ruining the hunting and fishing. The KIFN is determined to preserve the integrity of the sensitive muskeg environment from which some of its 1200 members still draw sustenance.

“We are not rich, nor do we have many possessions. We live a simple life, but we have a good life,” says elder Eleazor Anderson who still hunts, traps, and lives off the land.

* Ipperwash was an Ontario standoff where Dudley George of the Aazhoodena First Nation - who was unarmed - was shot at 3 times and killed by Acting OPP Sgt. Kenneth Deane.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Winnipeg gardeners sneak flowers onto public streets

from the CBC

Guerrilla gardeners are launching an attack on Winnipeg's downtown, filling empty city planters with blooms to try to cut down on urban ugliness.

Jennifer Bishop is one of a handful of women who fan out to pull weeds from the abandoned planters and replace them with bedding plants from their own gardens.

"I try to do it when there's no people around, or they're otherwise occupied," Bishop said as she let a CBC camera crew follow her around recently.

"The city deserves to be beautiful, because it's a wonderful city.

"You don't necessarily want people to know that you've done it," she added. "It's just your gift to them – and sometimes the best gifts are anonymous.

The City of Winnipeg says it uses money from the parks and open spaces budget to plant flowers in planters along major streets each year.

That budget is limited, however, so some planters remain empty when city planting crews pass by.

Municipal leaders have no intention of cracking down on the guerrilla gardeners, says public information and communications officer Bob McDonald.

"I think it's very much an enhancement of what we're able to provide within our budgets," he said. "This is a situation where the more flowers that are planted, the better it is."

Winnipeggers certainly appreciate the work of Bishop and her friends.

"I think that it's really nice to have the nice flowers," said Lorinda Vopni, who passed by just after Bishop had finished watering the new plants in one urn. "It's like a backyard feeling in the middle of the city."

"It brightens up the day, because you see something growing," agreed Roger Leclerc. "After the long, cold winter, it's good to see something growing."