Sudbury

Constitutional challenge falls apart as North Bay court hears no evidence of Amikwa nation

Several dozen members of the Indigenous community in Ontario's Lake Nipissing area will have to pay fines for hunting and fishing violations after a court turned aside their constitutional challenge this week.

Some of the hunting and fishing charges date back 15 years

Nipissing First Nation commercial fisherman Lorne Stevens was one of the 54 defendants who lost their constitutional challenge in court this week. (Erik White/CBC )

Several dozen members of the Indigenous community in the Lake Nipissing area will have to pay fines for hunting and fishing violations after a court turned aside their constitutional challenge this week.

The 54 defendants claimed they were members of the Amikwa Nation, which has never signed a treaty with the Canadian government.

They argued that took away the authority of any government over their traditional territory laid out in the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850, and the charges should be tossed out. 

But this week in a virtual courtroom based in North Bay, the defence could not produce a single witness recognized by the court recognized as having expert evidence to give on the Amikwa or the Indigenous history of northern Ontario.

On Thursday, Justice Erin Vainepool rejected American legal scholar and human rights lawyer Sidney Harring, who admitted he had never heard of the Amikwa before being asked to give an opinion for this trial.

Fines from $250-$750

Harring also told the court that much of his work was based on the personal genealogical research of Henvey Inlet man Stacy McQuabbie, who the court rejected as an expert earlier in the week. 

Vainepool ruled while the Supreme Court has recognized the "unique character of Aboriginal claims" and courts should consider a "different class of evidence" in these cases, that should not put "strain" on the existing standards of the legal system.

The judge then handed down fines for violations including hunting moose without a licence and erecting a cabin on public land, ranging from $250 to $750. 

Crown prosecutor Paul Gonsalves told the court these penalties are "approximately half" the usual fines, which should not be seen as a precedent for future cases.

He said the Crown was taking into account this was a "test case involving assertion of Indigenous rights" and the "modest means" of the accused, which he said the Ministry of the Attorney General is taking into consideration when issuing fines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two of the 54 defendants, both commercial fishermen from Nipissing First Nation with several charges who had their boats seized by authorities, will appear at another hearing next month to have their case settled. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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