Nfld. & Labrador

Detainment of Inuit protesters in St. John's prison draws condemnation while causing inspiration

Inuit leaders are calling for the justice minister to free protesters from incarceration, while the minister says that is not his job.

Two protesters are in the same cell, while the third is rooming with a stranger

Protesters show their displeasure with the incarceration of three members of the Inuit community at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Three Muskrat Falls protesters detained at Her Majesty's Penitentiary could be there a while — they're not due back in court until July 31.

According to friends of the incarcerated, two of them are rooming together in one cell, while the third — Marjorie Flowers — is in a cell with four beds and one roommate.

Jodi Greenleaves, whose father is Flowers's partner, went to visit her Sunday night.

"She said it's really unbearably hot inside there and that was actually her only complaint," said Greenleaves. "She's been treated well by her cellmate and the other inmates that are there."

Jodi Greenleaves visited with Marjorie Flowers on Sunday evening at Her Majesty's Penitentiary. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The NunatuKavut Community Council has condemned the arrest of the three Inuit protesters and their detention in a men's prison

Flowers, along with Jim Learning and Eldred Davis, were taken into custody July 21, after refusing to obey a court injunction ordering them not to interfere with the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Council President Todd Russell issued a statement Monday afternoon calling on Andrew Parsons, the province's attorney general and justice minister, to take action.

Russell said  the three protesters were asserting their right to free speech and peaceful assembly.

"NCC calls for the immediate release of Jim, Eldred and Marjorie," Russell wrote. "We also demand that the attorney general of Newfoundland and Labrador, who is responsible for the administration of justice in this province, do his job."

Marjorie Flowers and Jim Learning were taken into custody Friday after refusing to promise that they wouldn't try to interfere with work on the Muskrat Falls project. (CBC)

Parsons, however, said choosing who gets incarcerated or who gets released is not his job.

"This comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what a justice minister and a government can do," he said.

"The same thing I'm being asked to do is the same thing that's protested in many countries where they don't have a democracy."

Arrests inspiring new voices in ongoing battle

Protests began Saturday, with new faces arriving with signs each day, Greenleaves said.

As they stood on the sidewalk, cars drove past and honked their support. A woman came by with bottles of water for the small group, followed by the owner of a nearby café bringing muffins.

Sara Tilley, in her third day protesting, said the three people inside the prison walls were an inspiration to her.

"I think they are incredible role models for how to be a real citizen," she said. "For me, that sometimes means you don't go by the letter of the law but the law within your own heart … your ethical law."

Muskrat protest not a new experience for Learning

Jim Learning, 79, has let his ethics guide him for years, say friends, who add he is suffering from prostate cancer and will need medical attention in jail.

In 2013, he was incarcerated for demonstrating against Muskrat Falls. He launched a hunger strike and refused to sign legal papers needed for his release.

Learning's most recent brush with the law came after he was accused of trespassing on June 24 and 25, and blocking traffic at the main gate of the project July 18.

YOUR VIDEO: Russell

9 years ago
Duration 0:46
Submitted by Kirk Lethbridge. Lethbridge, a protester, recorded this video of NunatuKavut president Todd Russell being arrested at a Muskrat Falls protest

In May, Beatrice Hunter was taken from court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and sent to HMP. After 10 days in custody, she was released on a promise to stay one kilometre away from the Muskrat Falls site.

In his statement, Russell called for a better relationship between justice officials and Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We expect the administration of justice in this province to respect the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples and to live up to promises around reconciliation.

"It can, and must, do better."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.

With files from Bailey White

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