MNO Harvesting Agreement Legally Binding on Government of Ontario



    OTTAWA, June 12 /CNW Telbec/ - The Ontario Court of Justice has ruled
that the historic harvesting agreement entered into by the Métis Nation of
Ontario (MNO) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is legally
binding on the Government of Ontario and that the laying of charges by the MNR
against three Métis harvesters violated the terms of that agreement. The Hon.
Justice Greg Rodgers today ordered a stay of proceedings against the three
Métis harvesters involved, Marc Laurin, Shaun Lemieux and Roger Lemieux, all
of the French River region of Ontario, south of Sudbury.
    "We have achieved another major victory in the Metis hunt for justice",
said MNO President and Chief Captain of the Hunt, Tony Belcourt. "This
judgment restores our faith in the value of negotiated agreements and
justifies our position that we wish to work out our issues at a negotiating
table. I hope this judgment will now pave the way for us to finally establish
an appropriate working relationship with the Government of Ontario that is
long overdue," Mr. Belcourt added.
    The MNO/MNR Harvesting Agreement was reached on July 7, 2004. Following
July 7th, the MNR attempted to unilaterally change the terms of the Agreement
by only applying it to MNO harvesters living in areas north and west of
Sudbury. Fifty percent (50%) of MNO Harvest Card holders are south of that
line. To date, a total of 25 charges have been laid against MNO Harvest Card
holders in those areas.
    "This ruling is going to be a tremendous relief to MNO Harvesters who
have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for the past three years", said
MNO Chair and Deputy Chief Captain of the Hunt, Gary Lipinski. "We call upon
the Government to immediately drop the charges against the remaining 22 MNO
Harvesters who are due to go to court, some as early as next Monday, June
18th. It is time for us to now move on fulfilling all of the terms of our
Agreement and the MNO remains committed to return to the negotiations table to
continue the discussions that are called for in that Agreement based on the
court's clear interpretation of the Agreement," Mr. Lipinski concluded.
    Jean Teillet, legal counsel to the Harvesters and the MNO said, "The
judge confirmed our analysis of the Crown's obligations when it enters into
agreements with Aboriginal people. He said our agreement was 'not merely
legally defensible but a highly principled response.' The Minister did the
right thing in 2004 when he entered into this agreement with the Métis. Having
that affirmed so strongly by the judge should be encouraging to Métis and to
government."

    The Métis are a distinct Aboriginal people with a unique culture,
language and heritage, and with an ancestral Homeland that centers around
Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, parts of the
Northwest Territories, as well as the northwestern United States. The Métis
played an instrumental role in the shaping of Canada, and work tirelessly to
share their culture, music, traditions and knowledge of the environment with
their fellow Canadians. Today, the Métis live, work, raise their families and
pay taxes in communities all across Canada.


    Backgrounder

    On September 19th 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its
decision in R. v. Powley in which it confirmed that Métis exist as a
rights-bearing aboriginal people in Canada. The decision was particularly
important to the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) because it had supported and
funded the case all throughout its journey through the courts. It was a
journey that took 10 years.
    Following the Powley decision the MNO entered into negotiations with
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) towards a harvesting agreement. On
July 7th 2004 the Minister of Natural Resources, Minister Ramsay and MNO
President Tony Belcourt entered into an Interim Harvesting Agreement which
states:

    July 7th 2004 Agreement

    
    1. MNO and MNR agree that MNO will issue a maximum of 1250 Harvester's
       Cards for this year. The number of 1250 is for this year only. A
       mutually agreeable process for a change in this number will be
       developed subject to research and evaluation of the Harvesters Card
       system.

    2. The MNR will apply the Interim Enforcement Policy (IEP) to those valid
       Harvesters Card holders who are harvesting for food, within their
       traditional territories and pursuant to the safety and conservation
       values set out in the IEP in a manner which is identical with its
       application to First Nations.

    3. This Interim Agreement will be for two years with the intention that
       it will be extended by mutual consent until a final agreement is in
       place.

    4. Both sides agree that an independent evaluation of the MNO Harvesters
       Card system will be performed based on mutually agreeable terms of
       reference.

    The Interim Enforcement Policy states that,

    1. An aboriginal person who identifies himself or herself as such,
       harvesting or transporting wildlife or fish as food for personal
       consumption and for social and ceremonial purposes, shall not be
       subject to enforcement procedures ...
    

    Following July 7th 2004 the Crown withdrew existing charges. At the same
time it began to insist that the agreement was not "legally enforceable".
Eventually the Crown stated that it would not implement the agreement south
and east of Sudbury and new charges were laid. It must be noted that within
the Interim Agreement there is no reference anywhere to geographical limits
apart from the harvesting being restricted to traditional territories. As of
June 2007, twenty-five MNO members are facing charges.
    The MNO decided in October of 2005 to join three cases together and bring
a motion to stay proceedings. The motion stated that MNR had breached the
July 7th Agreement by laying charges against the defendants. The three
defendants were: Marc Laurin, Shawn Lemieux and Roger Lemieux. The Motion was
filed in November of 2005. It was heard in 2006 on March 22, 23, June 16,
October 13, November 2, 27, and in 2007 on February 16th.




For further information:

For further information: See attached backgrounder, visit
www.metisnation.org or contact: Katelin Peltier, MNO Acting Manager of
Communications, Cell (613) 859-7130, katelinp@metisnation.org


Custom Packages

Browse our custom packages or build your own to meet your unique communications needs.

Start today.

CNW Membership

Fill out a CNW membership form or contact us at 1 (877) 269-7890

Learn about CNW services

Request more information about CNW products and services or call us at 1 (877) 269-7890