[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) -- An aboriginal logger threatened Friday to put escorts on his timber trucks following a New Brunswick crackdown on illegal cutting in the province.
Tim Paul, head of the New Brunswick Native Loggers Business Association, met with other aboriginal loggers after provincial forest rangers seized five logging trucks Thursday.
Two of the trucks were carrying logs cut by Paul's forest company.
"I'm buying my own trucks after today and I'm going to have tight security on them when they're going down the road," Paul said, adding his trucks won't stop for authorities.
"They're not going to have an easy time taking my trucks again."
Paul said he's determined to resume cutting, even though the government has temporarily blocked him from getting his logs to market.
"We weren't born yesterday. We'll come up with a plan," he said.
Premier Camille Theriault and deputy premier Doug Tyler both turned down invitations to meet with the loggers. They did agree to send a junior minister to talk to loggers Friday night.
Noah Augustine, spokesman for the loggers' association, questioned Theriault's refusal to meet.
"What concerns us is we're going back to the way things used to be, where the premier doesn't want to give us his time and attention," he said.
The government said no vehicles were seized Friday, largely because rainy weather had reduced illegal logging.
Tensions between the government and the province's roughly 10,000 aboriginal people have been high for about a month, since the provincial Court of Appeal overturned lower court rulings that said natives have a treaty right to harvest and sell timber from Crown land.
The aboriginals are expected to appeal the ruling, but until then government officials have tried to broker a deal with aboriginal leaders to keep the peace in the woods.
Fredricton - Tensions mounted in New Brunswick forests Thursday after provincial forest rangers seized trucks and timber in a long-threatened crackdown on illegal logging by native Indians. Officials said five vehicles loaded with cut trees were confiscated as the province upped the ante in its dispute with natives over logging rights. "They've made a mistake here," said Brian Francis, vice president of the New Brunswick Native Loggers Association. "We have a legal right to be on that land - that's the thing...and the province knows we have a right. It's in the Constitution."
Natural Resources Minister Doug Tyler said the province decided on a crackdown after receiving reports that illegal cutting was on the increase and involved non-natives. "What we want to do is continue to negotiate through a very, very conciliatory process, but we've always said that the law would take its course," he said. "That has happened." Native logging operations in 28 sites have been defying a government order to stop illegal cutting on Crown land. Last week, native loggers were working at 16 sites. Louella Woods, spokeswoman for the province's natural resources department, said the vehicles were stopped separately in undisclosed locations. The drivers weren't arrested, but could face charges.
RCMP officers assisted forest rangers Thursday in shutting down a couple of logging sites. The Mounties have a riot squad and a heavily armed emergency team ready to respond to any standoff.
The New Brunswick government took the first step yesterday in a controversial crackdown on native logging of Crown land. Officers from the Department of Natural Resources seized five trucks loaded with logs taken from Crown land as part of an enforcement effort that some native leaders say will lead to confrontations in the woods. Since the New Brunswick Court of Appeal ruled last month that native loggers did not have an inherent right to cut lumber on Crown land, the government has said it would begin enforcement efforts only if the natives refused to negotiate and continued to cut timber.
Yesterday's move, which departmental spokesman Doug Tyler said took place without confrontations, occurred after the number of native logging sites grew to 28 from 16 in the past week. Mr. Tyler told reporters that he believes the increased activity was driven by non-native loggers hoping to profit from providing trucks and logging equipment to Micmac and Maliseet loggers. "Unfortunately some people in the non-native community are trying to take advantage of that situation, and quite frankly that is not benefiting the native community in any way," he said. "What we're trying to find is a process where the native community and the native people can also benefit from this." He insisted the government wants to negotiate a settlement with the native groups.
The seized trucks were all intercepted on main roads and are believed to have been working in northern New Brunswick. The Department of Natural Resources would not say whether any arrests were made. The situation in the bush has been tense for several weeks as native loggers continued to cut timber in defiance of a provincial order. Native leaders will meet in Fredericton today to try to work out a plan. But last night several native loggers said they will unite to prevent any attempts by the province to shut down their operations. As well, there are reports that they are being supported by the Micmac Warriors' Society.
Betty Ann Lavallee, head of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples' Council, representing native people living off reserves, said she was not surprised by the crackdown. "We knew this was coming. We figured it would happen as soon as Camille Theriault was sworn in as premier," she said. Ms. Lavallee said she fears there will be native people that will resist any attempt to move them out of the woods. "There are some of our people who are quite adamant out there that they are going to exercise their rights as aboriginal people under the Charter of Rights and they are going to stand their ground." Ms. Lavallee said confrontations could have been avoided if provincial officials had talked to all native groups instead of singling out a few chiefs for negotiations.
Many native logging groups insist they have an inherent right to cut trees on Crown land. That right was recognized by the New Brunswick Supreme Court last fall in a decision that said all the trees on Crown land in the province belonged to native people. That decision set off a flurry of activity in the bush by native groups, many of whom have said that the work was a welcome relief from poverty and social assistance. But the decision was overturned by the recent decision of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and the provincial government has tried to coax the native groups to stop cutting by offering them small tracts of Crown land and the opportunity to cut wood for larger lumber operations.
Ms. Lavallee said native loggers can't afford to leave the bush. "This is their livelihood. It is the first time in most of their adult lives that they have been able to put food on the table and clothe their children. The social violence and suicides dropped over the past couple of months and it's because people are actually out there making a living... Most of our people don't want to live in the conditions that they did; they don't want handouts. They want to be self-sufficient."