[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
FREDERICTON (CP) - The Supreme Court of Canada has undercut the hopes of native loggers who wanted open access this summer to New Brunswick's Crown forests. The high court has rejected a request for a stay of proceedings that would have reopened the Crown lands to native logging while the court ponders the case. Justice Charles Gonthier said the application should have been made to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal.
Brian Francis, vice-president of the Native Loggers Business Association, said Tuesday the loggers will follow the Supreme Courts advice and try again. "We'll reapply in the appeal court," said Francis, a native logger at the Big Cove reserve in eastern New Brunswick. "This time, I'm going to suggest to our lawyer that he compile some information on how this decision has affected the well-being of native people and what well lose if we cant continue harvesting on what we consider our land."
The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will hear the native logging case, which has ignited heated debate over the question of who owns Crown land: aboriginals or government?
Two lower New Brunswick courts ruled that natives have an aboriginal right to Crown timber, but the provincial Court of Appeal struck down those decisions in April and entered a conviction against the man at the heart of the case, native logger Thomas Peter Paul. Following that, Paul's lawyer, Cleveland Allaby of Fredericton, asked the Supreme Court for leave to appeal. He included with the application the request for a stay of proceedings. Paul is due to be sentenced in provincial court in Bathurst, N.B., next Wednesday, but Francis expects an extension while another request for a stay of proceedings is prepared.
Given the endless twists and turns through the legal system, its unlikely native loggers will get unfettered access to Crown timber this cutting season. But the New Brunswick government continues to negotiate on a reserve-by-reserve basis for a small share of the annual harvest.
With the latest legal setback, it appears the provinces offer to the 15 reserves of five per cent of the allowable cut will be the only realistic option open to natives. So far, two reserves have accepted the deal, Tobique and Burnt Church, and a third, Eel Ground, is expected to vote on the offer Thursday.
"I think people on both sides are tired of bickering," said Wade Wilson, spokesman for the New Brunswick Natural Resources Department. "The native folks I've talked to want to be able to get out there and earn a living....It's not a perfect world, but this is an opportunity to have a bit of calm and have some harvesting going on and give those people the opportunity to have an income and make some money for their communities."
Big Cove, the largest reserve in New Brunswick with a population of 2,000, is also talking to the province.
But Francis said loggers remain united in their opposition to cutting a deal that would diminish what many natives believe is a treaty-guaranteed, aboriginal right to Crown land. "I've talked to the loggers here at Big Cove and they say that if the chief and council sign this deal, there will be a lot of anger. One guy who lives across the road from the chief, he told him Look, you better not sign that, or you're going to have to move away."