| Oct 11, 2007


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Feature Article - October 11, 2007

Algonquins Will Leave Robertsville Site if Province Agrees to Mediation Termsby Jeff Green

Co Chiffs Paula Sherman and Bob Lovelace interviewed by CBC

The occupation of the Robertsville mine could be coming to an end.

As of late Tuesday night, October 9, the Shabot Obaadjiwaan (Sharbot Lake) and Ardoch Algonquins had agreed to amended wording in an agreement to set up a 12-week mediation process with the government of Ontario, and were waiting to see if Owen Young, the lawyer for the Attorney General of Ontario, could coax his client to accept the wording as well.

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The latest round of legal wrangling began almost a week earlier, when Frontenac Ventures Corporation, the uranium exploration company that has been prevented from accessing their 30,000 acre exploration property since June 28, filed a motion with Justice Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court. Cunningham had already released a draft ruling ordering that the occupation end, and the motion asked not only that the ruling be formalised, but that arrests and substantial financial penalties be imposed on the leaders of the two communities and any other individuals who are either occupying the site or supporting the occupiers.

The company proposed fines of $5,000 for each breach of the court order and $50,000 in punitive damages, to be paid to Frontenac Ventures.

Last Thursday, October 4, lawyers for all of the involved parties (the Ontario government, Frontenac Ventures, the OPP, Shabot Obaadjiwaan and Ardoch) spent most of the day in the judge’s chambers, and on Friday, October 4, they were joined in the chambers by Chief Doreen Davis and retired Chief Robert Lovelace of the two First Nations.

Out of these protracted meetings, a tentative agreement was reached. It called for the two First Nations to leave the mine site, and for Frontenac Ventures to be allowed back in. A mediation process was to be set up, involving representatives from the Ontario and Federal governments, the two First Nations, and a mediator. This process would have 12 weeks to work on several issues, during which time the company had agreed they would carry on only non-invasive exploration, and would not drill any test holes to confirm uranium deposits. Frontenac Ventures had provided a 40-week schedule for proposed activities on the land in question to Justice Cunningham in late September, and it did not call for drilling to commence until the 13th week. Contempt of court proceedings were to be stayed while this process unfolded.

One of the issues that would be discussed during the mediation talks, according to lawyers for the First Nations, is the possibility of a “moratorium” on uranium exploration on the traditional territory of the two communities. Another is the question of whether the Government of Ontario breached their “duty to consult” the two communities before they issued the exploration permits to Frontenac Ventures Corporation. These lands, along with all of the land on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River Valley, have been the subject of broader land claims negotiations that have been underway in fits and starts for the past 17 years.

In order to put the mediation into effect, the Algonquin communities had to ratify what had been discussed in the judge’s chambers, and the Government of Ontario had to sign on as well.

The proposal to leave the site and allow Frontenac Ventures to return was something that the leaders of the two communities spent the Thanksgiving weekend discussing with their respective councils and others, and with the non-aboriginal supporters who had established their own camp outside of the mine gates.

By Monday afternoon, Ardoch and Sharbot Lake had agreed to the proposal. A “good news” press conference was arranged for Tuesday morning on the steps of the Frontenac County Courthouse in Kingston, even though the Algonquins had not yet heard if the Government of Ontario was on side.

Monday evening, that all changed when they received an-email from Owen Young, which outlined Ontario’s interpretation of what the mediation process would look like.

The email said that the government would discuss “un-staked lands” in the subject area, and did not include any direct reference to a “moratorium” of any sort.

Retired Chief Robert Lovelace and Chief Paul Sherman of the Ardoch Algonquins said, “The amended agreement proposed by Ontario on Monday evening limits the scope of mediation and reduces the potential for resolution of the key issues.” Of particular concern was the word “unstaked”, which was taken to mean that the 30,000 acres of land that is at the centre of the dispute would not be open for discussion during mediation talks.

The message that the occupation was to continue was communicated to the public through CBC radio reports on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile the wording of the agreement was being bandied about in emails between Stephen Reynolds, the lawyer for Sharbot Lake, and Owen Young.

Early Tuesday evening, new wording was proposed that brought the Frontenac Ventures exploration territory back into the mediation process, although the government was still balking at discussing anything as broad as a moratorium.

Late Tuesday evening Robert Lovelace told the News that Ardoch had joined Sharbot Lake in accepting the amended wording.

Approval from Ontario was still pending.

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