Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lawyer Files Constitutional Question in Ontario Court

The following is written by Donna Duric, and first appeared in Turtle Island News on February 7th, 2007. It is one of several documents from the February 2007 report The Criminalization of the Six Nations Land Reclamation.

Court security was out in full force last Wednesday when a series of Six nations people filed in for court appearances and one lawyer filed a constitutional question challenging the Ontario Superior Court’s Authority over Mohawks.

Everyone entering the courthouse was scanning and their coats and purses searched before being allowed into the court house.

Family and friends were all subjected to scrutiny. One woman Rhonda Martin laughed and said, “All this, just for us.”

A lawyer representing a man charged in connection with incidents relating to the Reclamation site has filed a constitutional question with the Ontario Superior Court challenging the court’s authority over the Mohawk people.

Steve Ford, a lawyer from Tyendinega, filed the application with the superior court Jan. 31 asserting that Mohawks are a sovereign people who do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian legal system.

“This is big,” Ford told reporters after the question was filed. “The Ontario Court of Justice has no jurisdiction over my client on the lands he was on [when the incident occurred]. You’re looking at a lot of witnesses in support of the application.”

Ford represents Akwasasne man Erwin Ron Gibson, 35, accused of robbery, assault causing bodily harm and assault in connection with an altercation with two cameramen in the Caledonia Canadian Tire parking lot on June 9th, 2006.

The altercation occurred when a group of people from the reclamation site followed a Simcoe couple into the parking alleging they had gunned their vehicle at a female security guard at the front entrance of the site.

Two CH TV cameramen were attempting to film the incident in the parking lot when the group approached them and a scuffle ensued resulting in one cameraman receiving a head injury.

A camera and a tripod were also stolen but returned shortly afterwards. About 10 minutes later, a group of people from the site followed a U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms vehicle behind Canadian Tire, took it, returning the vehicle about half an hour later. The OPP issued seven arrest warrants in relation to those incidents. Two warrants remain outstanding, including one for Skyler Williams, 22, of Ohsweken, and Albert Douglas, of Six Nations. Douglas faces charges of attempted murder, assaulting a police officer, dangerous driving, robbery and forcible confinement. Williams faces robbery charges.

Gibson is co-accused with Six Nations man Trevor Miller, 31, who is facing two counts of robbery plus violence, assault causing bodily harm and assault in connection with the June 9th incidents.

Gibson has been out on bail since his arrest in September last year, but Miller remains in custody at the Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre after being denied bail five months ago. [NOTE: Trevor Miller has since been released since the time of writing of this article.]

Both Miller and Gibson appeared at the Ontario Court of Justice in Cayuga last Wednesday, each wearing a Mohawk headdress and a traditional ribbon shirt.

Gibson was also carrying an eagle feather while he sat in the courtroom. He said he exhibited those symbols of his Mohawk heritage because “he had to”.

“It’s not a statement. I’m proud to be a Mohawk and this is how we dress.”

Ford says the constitutional question comes down to the self-determination and self-government of aboriginal people. Six Nations leaders have maintained that Haudenosaunee people are not subject to Canadian law under the guidelines of the Two-Row Wampum, which states that natives and non-natives are not to interfere in each other’s laws and customs.

If the Superior Court accepts the jurisdictional challenge and proceeds to delve into it, the Ontario Court of Justice will have no choice but to stay the charges on both Miller and Gibson, Ford says.

Both men are set to reappear at the Ontario Court of Justice on March 6, and the constitutional question will be answered on March 7.

Audra Ann Taillefer, who is co-accused with Gibson and Miller, is also set to appear for a pre-trial February 14. Chris Hill [charged in connection with the OPP raid on April 20th, 2006] will appear for a pre-trial February 14th. Hill is still in custody. Ken Hill was remanded to March 7 for a pre-trial.

Kanohstaton spokeswoman Hazel Hill said a legal technical team is being organized to oversee and track all those who have been charged and to work with the individuals who have been charged.

She said all those charged should be contacting Bev Jacobs the lead lawyer for the Haudenosaunee legal team.

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