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Friday, Jan. 21, 2000

Metis decision may have national implications, says Harris

By CRAIG WONG --- The Canadian Press
TORONTO (CP) -- An Ontario court decision upholding the hunting rights of Metis in the province may have an impact nationally, Premier Mike Harris says.

  As a result, Harris said Thursday he is considering appealing the Superior Court decision that Metis leaders are hailing as a "massive victory."

  "I am very concerned about implications across the country, and obviously I supported the appeal, so I disagree with the decision," Harris said.

  "I am very worried it is a substantial broadening of aboriginal rights to hunt and fish outside of the conservation measures and regulations."

  On Wednesday, the court upheld a December 1998 ruling that dismissed charges against Steve Powley, 49, and his son Roddy, 25. The two Metis men had been charged under the province's Game and Fish Act with hunting and possessing moose.

  At issue was whether the Metis, people of mixed Indian and European blood, have the right to hunt for food under the Constitution.

  Steve Powley was jubilant Thursday.

  "It's about time (the government) let it go and started to negotiate with the Metis people. That's how the government should have dealt with this years ago," he said, adding he's prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court if the government appeals.

  In dismissing the charges, the lower court judge ruled the Ontario law did violate the aboriginal right of the Metis to hunt moose and other game.

  Since then, the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources has laid at least seven other similar charges.

  In the wake of this week's decision, Metis leaders in Ontario called on the provincial government to negotiate.

  "We have again been vindicated by the courts and this judgment will be of enormous effect in our goal to finally get to the table and negotiate on all Metis issues in Ontario," Tony Belcourt, president of the Metis Nation of Ontario, said Thursday.

  Jean Teillet, the lawyer for the Powleys, warned of the potential for turmoil like that seen on the East Coast following the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Donald Marshall.

  In September, the high court upheld the right of aboriginals in the Maritimes to year-round hunting, fishing, gathering and trading.

  With the ruling, hundreds of natives in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick took to the water to harvest lobster. Non-native lobster fishermen feared their livelihoods would be endangered by new entrants in what they said was already a fragile fishery.

  Tempers raged across the Miramichi in early October. Thousands of native traps were destroyed, triggering incidents of retaliatory violence.

  "We saw the political and social turmoil that happens when rights of aboriginal people are affirmed by the courts but government has taken absolutely no action on it," Teillet said.

  "We have the potential for thousands of Marshall type turmoils to happen across the country. And the blame would be laid squarely on governments because they refused to act."


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