| Aug 02, 2007


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Feature Article - August 2, 2007

Lawsuits hit the courts

by Jeff Green

“I would like to see this thing move along,” said Judge Thomson of the Kingston Superior Court as he faced one active and at least one pending lawsuit, with six lawyers representing different parties, in a hastily convened preliminary court date this past Monday July 30.

A week earlier Frontenac Ventures Corporation filed a $77 million lawsuit against two non-status Algonquin communities, and their leadership, who have occupied the Robertsville mine site where Frontenac Ventures has leased land in order to carry out uranium exploration on a 30,000 acre mining claim.

Progress was made in setting out how and when the increasingly tangled legal matters will be considered.

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Chris Reid, the lawyer representing the Ardoch Algonquins, presented a brief in response to the $77 million suit that was filed by Frontenac Venture Corporation. Within the brief he indicated that his clients would be filing their own action against both Frontenac Ventures and the Government of Ontario for starting mining exploration without first entering into meaningful consultation with the First Nations affected, as he said is required by the constitution.

The Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation, and their chief Doreen Davis have their own lawyer, Steve Reynolds. John Polyzodopoulos, a lawyer representing the 16 Algonquin Nations Representatives, who have been working on a land claim agreement with Ontario and Canada, was also present, although he said he has had no instructions from his clients as of yet.

Lawyers representing the OPP and the Government of Ontario were also present. The lawyer for the Ontario government said the province expects to become a named party in at least one of the lawsuits and will be prepared to respond.

Court time has been set aside in Kingston on Sept. 20, 21, and October 2-5 to hear the case.

There was no agreement on what should happen in the interim.

Frontenac Ventures Corporation requested that the court impose an interim injunction “enjoining the defendants or any other person” from impeding Frontenac Ventures’ access to lands they hold under mining claims or mining leases. It also asks that the defendants be restrained from interfering with Frontenac Ventures’ access to the Robertsville Mine, which is private property owned by Peter Jorgensen and Peter Kriens.

Neal Smitheman, the lawyer for Frontenac Ventures Corporation, told the court that a six-week adjournment in the case is “not unreasonable” but “in order for the company to be able to survive the six-week period, we need to come up with some terms that won’t result in the company suffering irreparable harm.”

Smitheman suggested that the Algonquin occupation of the Robertsville mine end, and said that the company would be willing to accept limitations on what they can do on the property and adjacent lands in order to facilitate an end to the occupation. These limitations included a commitment to not undertake any test hole drilling. “We are trying to be reasonable, under the circumstances,” he said.

Chris Reid, the lawyer for the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and four of their leaders, said it is not only the potential drilling that concerns his clients.

Previous actions by Frontenac Ventures have “destroyed a beaver dam, damaged the wetlands, and altered the trap line of one of our members,” he said, referring to the reluctance of his clients to leave the mine site.

“The status quo is a peaceful situation. The so-called occupation is a camp. Our concern is that anything that will allow his [Smitheman’s] client to enter will alter that peaceful situation.”

Judge Thomson asked Chris Reid and Steve Reynolds to meet with their clients and then try to work out a compromise with Frontenac Ventures over access to the site. “There must be some elasticity in the positions here,” the judge said.

After a break, the lawyers returned to court to say that no compromise had been reached. “We’re miles away,” Neal Smitheman said.

Chris Reid said his clients remain concerned about the damage that has already been done to the property by Frontenac Ventures.

Neal Smitheman expressed frustration at the position his clients are now faced with. “There is a fundamental rift between government and First Nations over mining exploration and once again in the middle is a junior mining company,” he said.

Judge Thomson told both sides to go away and “come back with a simple list.” From the company he wants to know what they need to do on their staked lands, what they want to do, and what they would like to do. From the Algonquins, he wants to know what they will easily permit, what they will reluctantly permit, and what they will not permit at all.

“If any problems arise after that, I’ll be available to sort them out,” he said.

Anticipating that no compromise would be reached on the next court date, which is today, Neal Smitheman indicated that he would be asking the court to force the Algonquins to allow Frontenac Ventures onto the Robertsville site.

“Sometimes it takes tough medicine,” he said.

Judge Thomson did not say how he would handle an impasse, but his warning to Chris Reid and Steve Reynolds of the implications of not coming to an agreement on access indicated that he is unlikely to impose a court injunction, which might lead to an altercation at the Robertsville mine.

No one wants anyone to be physically harmed, or injured, over this,” he told the two lawyers. “However, if the company continues to lose money because of this, and you eventually lose the case, it will cost your clients more money.”

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