Ottawa

Charges dropped against eastern Ont. uranium protesters

A mining exploration company has withdrawn charges against a group of protesters who disobeyed a court order to stay away from a prospective uranium mining site.

A mining exploration company has withdrawn charges against a group of protesters who disobeyed a court order to stay away from a prospective uranium mining site.

Frontenac Ventures announced in a Kingston courtroom Monday that it was no longer pressing contempt-of-court charges against the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, co-chief Bob Lovelace, honorary chief Harold Perry and six non-aboriginal protesters.

Neil Smitheman, legal counsel for Frontenac Ventures, said it didn't make sense to go ahead.

"We're not here to prosecute people," he said. "We're in the business of drilling holes to see if there's a feasibility to do further mining."

At least 100 people packed the courtroom Monday, when the accused were scheduled to face the charges laid last fall in relation to an occupation last summer of a site near Sharbot Lake, Ont., about 60 kilometres north of Kingston, where Frontenac Ventures wanted to do test drilling.

The Algonquins say the site is on their land and they fear that uranium drilling could lead to environmental contamination. 

They began the occupation last June 29 and continued it until October, despite court injunctions granted in response to the company's requests that barred the protesters from going near the site.

On Monday, Justice Douglas Cunningham, associate chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, made it clear that despite this batch of charges being dropped, the court injunctions remain in place. That means other protesters could still face charges if they go near the site.

'A public relations disaster'

The withdrawing of the charges came less than a week after Lovelace was released from jail after serving just over half of his six-month term.

His lawyer, Christopher Reid, said he believes both events are related to public perception about the situation at Sharbot Lake.

"This has been a public relations disaster for those people responsible for putting Mr. Lovelace in jail," he said. "They've realized that it was a failure. Did they stop the protest? No."

Lovelace and his supporters said they hope the publicity surrounding the case will inspire the Ontario government to consider a moratorium on uranium mining.

Last summer's occupation ended in October after reaching an agreement with the Ontario government to begin mediation talks. The protesters briefly resumed their blockade of the site in February after mediation talks broke off.

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