MNO Harvesting Agreement legally binding on Government of Ontario
OTTAWA (June 12, 2007) — 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.
Reprinted with Permission of The Métis Nation of Ontario