Batchewana First Nation (BFN) leadership are seeking council from community members and fellow First Nations about the next steps for their logging industry after a disappointing day in court.
Yesterday was the culmination of an 8 year trial where Batchewana First Nation members faced a prosecution for logging on their our lands under Ontario’s Crown Forest Sustainability Act.
First Nation leadership viewed this trial as a means to an end and optimistically hoped for a process by which wrongs that were committed against them and their lands would finally be made right.
With Justice Kwolek’s decision to grant leave for the Crown to withdraw charges Chief Dean Sayers fears that the justice they seek my not come.
Time and time again First Nations are expected to participate in the Crown’s justice system with promises of action, which are immediately followed by inaction.
Justice Kwolek’s decision to withdraw as outlined in the reasons for judgment were based on the limited jurisdiction of the Ontario Court, as an inferior forum to address complex legal and historical issues involving aboriginal and native rights.
“One chapter closes today but another chapter begins this afternoon”, commented Chief Sayers who sees this judgment as a new opportunity, “We will be engaging our citizens and the other 20 First Nations of the Robinson Huron Treaty to provide guidance on how to move forward. We have been at the negotiation table and the Crown maintains it’s assumed jurisdiction over the forest. We do not accept that.”
Justice Kwolek encouraged the parties to enter into expedited discussions to resolve outstanding Treaty Rights. Furthermore he stated that, “negotiations should proceed in the absence of outstanding charges and the threat of criminal sanctions should be replaced with negotiation by both the federal and provincial governments with BFN.”
During proceedings Council for the Crown expressed the government of Ontario’s commitment to the goal of reconciliation and resolving aboriginal claims outside the context of litigation.
Batchewana First Nation leadership welcomes the Crown’s representatives to meet and look forward to entering into a dialogue, a nation-to-nation dialogue to negotiate under BFN’s jurisdiction.
The First Nation was awarded costs of $300, 000 determined by “exceptional circumstances”, namely the delay of the Crown to reach a decision to withdraw charges. This delay resulted in the defendants expending much time and expense in defending the proceedings.