Canada
Attawapiskat blockade 'smells of coercion': Judge

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

Credits: REUTERS

RON GRECH | QMI AGENCY

TIMMINS, ON - The ongoing blockade outside the Victor diamond mine is not an First Nations protest but an act of extortion, a Timmins Superior Court judge declared Wednesday.

Judge Robert Riopelle said the men spearheading the blockade are not fighting for constitutional rights, land claims, treaty issues or anything that would benefit the community of Attawapiskat.

These are "individuals with private financial interests, holding a large multinational corporation to ransom," Judge Robert Riopelle. "It smells of coercion."

Riopelle felt there was sufficient basis for the Ontario Provincial Police to lay criminal charges against the six demonstrators who have prevented access to the mine site since Feb. 11.

Wednesday's hearing was hastily called late Tuesday, at the request of De Beers Canada as a followup to the injunction order made on Friday.

Its purpose was to provide direction on enforcing the order.Riopelle had issued the order, demanding the barricades be removed from the ice road used as a supply route and prohibiting any further obstruction of access to the mine site by demonstrators.

DeBeers lawyer Neal Smitheman questioned why the police were not enforcing the order.

He said the police had been at the scene of the blockade and met with the demonstrators, but didn't break up the barricades or arrest those behind the illegal blockade.

He said the police should be making "every effort" to re-open that road.

Smitheman said police can "exercise discretion on how that order should best be enforced" but it is not their choice whether or not to enforce a judge's order.

OPP lawyer Chris Diana told court the force acknowledges and accepts the responsibility of enforcing court orders.

The OPP mandate in these disputes is to come across as neutral, Diana said, to which Smitheman replied, "That is utter nonsense."

The De Beers lawyer questioned "what is the message being sent to the world" when "five or six disgruntled ex-employees ... can shut down a business of 500 people at a cost of millions? That there is no law in Northern Ontario?"

Diana said any use of force to remove the protesters would require OPP developing an "operational plan."

Smitheman said it is troubling if the police don't know how to remove six protesters blocking a road.

"This is Attawapiskat. It's not Kandahar," he said.

Riopelle said he would not place any timelines on the police, leaving the door open for the OPP to continue taking a measured approach. The matter will be back in court Friday for the judge to review the injunction order and allow other interested parties to make a presentation.

Diana advised the court that several of the demonstrators have expressed a desire to address the court on Friday and possibly Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.


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