Nfld. & Labrador

NunatuKavut elder refuses to leave jail over Muskrat stance

The president of NunatuKavut is worried about the health of an elder who remains in a jail cell, even though authorities say he can leave by signing a routine court order.

President Todd Russell says RCMP used an 'amount of force' in incident

YOUR VIDEO: Russell

9 years ago
Duration 0:45
Submitted by Kirk Lethbridge. Lethbridge, a protester, recorded this video of NunatuKavut president Todd Russell being arrested at a Muskrat Falls protest

The president of the Labrador aboriginal group NunatuKavut is worried about the health of an elder who remains in a jail cell, even though authorities say he can leave by signing a routine court order.

NunatuKavut president Todd Russell said elder Jim Learning is refusing to sign the legal papers needed for his release, and that he is now in the fourth day of a hunger strike against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Russell, Learning and six others were arrested Friday as group members organized what Russell called an orderly demonstration outside the Muskrat Falls construction site.

Learning has refused to sign an undertaking to keep the peace and refrain from blocking traffic. Nalcor Energy last fall obtained an injunction preventing protests outside the site.

"He went before the judge, and he would not sign an undertaking that would have denied him the ability to practise his aboriginal rights," Russell said.

"For that, they remanded him to the Labrador Correctional Centre on Friday, and he has not eaten."

Russell said he is worried about Learning's health.

"Jim is living with cancer. That cancer has metastasized to his bones ... and we are very seriously concerned about the health and welfare of Jim Learning," Russell said.

'Jim is not a criminal'

Asked by CBC News if he had asked Learning to sign the undertaking so that he could be released and obtain medical treatment, Russell said no.

'Was this politically motivated? We have to get to the bottom of that.'—Todd Russell

"Jim is not a criminal. Jim is a human being, an aboriginal person with rights, he is a Canadian citizen, and he feels wrongly remanded and held in custody for doing something that he believes he has every right to do."

Meanwhile, Russell said he wants answers on how the RCMP came to make the arrests on Friday.

"Was this politically motivated? We have to get to the bottom of that."

Russell told CBC News Monday that the tenor of what he called an orderly protest changed entirely because of the RCMP.

"Then, as they say, all hell broke loose," he said.

Russell admits that he lay on the ground at the site, which prompted four RCMP officers to lift him and then carry him to a vehicle.

"They basically ripped the clothes off of me and placed me in handcuffs," said Russell, who added that he felt he was dragged to the vehicle.

"They basically used that amount of force to stick me in the back of a vehicle, a police cruiser. It wasn't enjoyable, let me tell you that."

"We cannot stand for that."

NunatuKavut, formerly known as the Labrador Métis Nation, does not have a formal land claim, but has consistently argued that Muskrat Falls is proceeding without the group's consent.

"We cannot accept projects happening on our aboriginal land, infringing upon our aboriginal rights, without accommodation of those aboriginal rights and interests," he said.

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