Peterborough This Week
By Lauren Gilchrist
Mary McGillis is appalled at how Trent professor Paula Sherman and Queen's University professor Bob Lovelace are being treated for acting on their beliefs.
Prof. Sherman has been charged with contempt of court, sentenced to six months in jail and fined $15,000 by a Superior Court Justice for protesting against uranium mining on native lands. Her colleague, Prof. Lovelace, not only a Queen's University professor but also an Aboriginal counsellor at Sir Sandford Fleming College, was also jailed for six months and fined $25,000.
“I'm really disgusted,” says Ms McGillis, who has a daughter that attends Trent University.
She notes people have to inform themselves about what is happening to Ms Sherman and Mr. Lovelace and about uranium mining in Ontario.
“It's critical for people to stand up for what they believe in,” she explains.
“These people [Ms Sherman and Mr. Lovelace] that are out there are trying to do something positive. If we ignore this they [the government] are going to do uranium mining and our watershed could be affected. I really believe if good people don't stand up bad things are going to happen,” she says.
Ms Sherman, a single mother and co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, negotiated with the court to avoid jail time. As part of the agreement she cannot participate in, or advocate that others participate in, protests against uranium mining on native lands near Sharbot Lake. The protest and blockade began over concerns that the provincial government had failed to provide adequate consultation with the aboriginal communities before issuing mining exploration permits. Both Ms Sherman and Mr. Lovelace argue the right of aboriginal communities to this consultation has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada and the First Nations Law was not respected in the court room.
The Trent University Faculty Association (TUFA) has put their weight behind Ms Sherman and formally condemned the decision by the court. The board has also made a $1,000 contribution to the defence fund established to support Ms Sherman.
The Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU) states that several areas of Ontario and Western Quebec have been staked for uranium exploration in the past two years. They say some of this is private property and some is Crown land, which is causing concern from both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. They argue that uranium mining in these areas carries a potential for contamination of three major river systems as well as air-born contamination of areas where people live and farm.
Marilyn Crawford describes what is happening to Ms Sherman and Mr. Lovelace as “heavy-handed” and “unjust.”
“To silence anyone who protests against what they want to do is unbelievable,” says Ms Crawford, with the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium and Mining Watch Canada.
“I'm not surprised and I don't think they [Ms Sherman and Mr. Lovelace] are surprised either. But I don't think the general public is aware that this is what's happening around the world when Canadian companies go in to explore.”
Ms Crawford says the Ontario Mining Act has a number of flaws. One of her major concerns with the act are the rules of entry regarding where mining can take place, the consent that is needed and the notice given to the landowner.
“They need more than notice,” she says.
“I've been working on this for seven years to try and get public awareness about what is wrong with the act. It's been a challenge but it's been a good fight. But I know we are going to win this.”
Local MPP Jeff Leal foresees the Ontario Mining Act getting a major review in either the spring or fall session of parliament.
“The mining act in Ontario hasn't had a major overhaul in about 100 years, there's no question, we've said so publicly,” he explains.
“Mike Gravelle, minister of Northern Development and Mines, has certainly indicated it's timely the mining act in Ontario have a significant overhaul.”
MPP Leal notes there is a tremendous amount of prospecting and mining going on in Ontario today.
“We're very, very aware of the potential repercussions of some mining activities,” he says.
“With this kind of level of activity I think the responsible thing to do is to overhaul the mining act in Ontario.
Ms Crawford notes the situation at Sharbot Lake is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the mining act.
“They [people] can protest. Speak out, become informed that this is happening not just in Canada but in Ontario, it's happening right here,” she says.
The Community Coalition Against Uranium Mining is organizing a citizens inquiry into the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle. In Peterborough, the public hearing takes place April 15 and 16 at Sadlier House on George Street. The forum runs from 1 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. The deadline to apply to make a presentation in Peterborough is April 1. Presentations can be made in person to the inquiry and can include written material, poems, plays, skits and songs. To pre-register e-mail www.uraniumcitizensinquiry.com or call (613) 259-9988.