Nfld. & Labrador

Senators blast N.L. government about Beatrice Hunter case

Two Canadian senators have asked Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball to review provincial legislation after the jailing of Muskrat Falls protester Beatrice Hunter.

Senators want review of whether province and Nalcor lived up to Charter and U.N. obligations

Beatrice Hunter celebrates with supporters after being released from prison on Friday. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Two Canadian senators have asked Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball to review provincial legislation after the jailing of Muskrat Falls protester Beatrice Hunter.

In an open letter Monday, Senator Murray Sinclair and Senator Kim Pate expressed their "extreme disappointment about the unjust incarceration."

Sinclair is a former Aboriginal judge from Manitoba and was chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Pate has advocated for the rights of women in prison for the past 35 years. Both were appointed to the Senate in 2016 by the federal Liberal government.

The judge who sent Hunter to prison said he had no choice because she refused to sign an undertaking to obey a court order not to come within a kilometre of the Muskrat Falls gate.

Supporters of Beatrice Hunter gathered outside Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's last week. (Gary Quigley/CBC )

But in their letter, the Senators say the punishment is part of "a legacy of racism and colonialism in this country" and that jail time was not warranted.

"She was engaged in lawful protest pursuant to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. People have the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech," Pate told CBC's On The Go.

"Mercifully, she was released last week but we still feel the premier has a responsibility to look at how this ever happened."

Need for 'clear and analytical' review

Pate said the Canadian constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the rights of Indigenous people to be consulted about the use of their land.

Senator Kim Pate has advocated for the rights of women in prison for 35 years. (Senate of Canada)

She said Ball has to make sure Nalcor and the government live up to its responsibilities.

The Innu in Labrador have an agreement with Nalcor — the New Dawn agreement — which outlines how members will benefit from the project.

However, some Inuit in Nunatsiavut and other Labradorians who are part of NunatuKavut have protested loudly against flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir and safety issues involving methylmercury and construction at the North Spur.

Recent flooding of the Churchill River into homes in Mud Lake intensified the concerns.

In October, 2016 following a hunger strike by Inuit artist Billy Gauthier and two others, Inuit leaders said they did not oppose the Muskrat Falls project but want to see it done "right."

Pate said what happened with the Beatrice Hunter case is reason to take another "clear and analytical look" at provincial laws.

"Ms Hunter, in participating in the protest of the project, acted in good faith to support the way of life of her people. She harmed no one." 

Meanwhile, Newfoundland's Justice Minister and Attorney General Andrew Parsons has said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on specific cases.

With files from On The Go

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