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Harvesting trial continues in Medicine Hat

Author: 
By Shari Narine, Sweetgrass Writer, Edmonton
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2010

Counsel for the Métis Nation of Alberta was expecting a delay in court proceedings because of the introduction of a detailed statistical report on Métis mobility. But a conference call at the end of April with Alberta Crown confirms everything is on track.

According to the established timetable, the Crown and MNA will present their final arguments on June 22-24.
The report that was causing concerns will be delivered by the defense’s final expert witness on May 11 and 12 at the Medicine Hat Provincial Court.

“The report was more detailed and complicated than any one anticipated,” said MNA counsel Jean Teillet. “Statistics always look really complicated when you start looking at them they’re kind of overwhelming. But I think what the basics come down to (the Crown) obviously thinks he can do it in that time frame.”

On trial are Ron Jones and Garry Hirsekorn, Métis harvesters who were charged with hunting without a license in the Cypress Hills and Medicine Hat areas. Trial began in May 2009 and by the time it wraps up, 35 witnesses will have been heard.

Summations should prove to be interesting, said Teillet, who admitted they were still discussing where their final argument will go.

The challenge, she said, is whether to keep the argument local and specific to the areas the two Métis harvesters were charged in or to take a province-wide approach. She noted that the MNA introduced a fair amount of province-wide evidence in the hope that even if the Crown did get a narrow decision in this case, the government would reassess its practice of requiring Métis harvesters to attain licenses.

“But the government usually responds in these cases to political pressure, and that’s what’s happened to us here,” said Teillet.

She noted that the MNA also had the option of arguing “whether the community is large or that the harvesting area is large.”

Teillet said they weren’t sure what position the Crown would take, noting that Crown evidence was limited to the Treaty 7 area although none of the hunting took place within that boundary.

“The judge also faces a number of options,” said Teillet, “how wide and how limited he might want to make his ruling.”

Past practice shows that the majority of judges tend to rule conservatively and not to make broader judgments. Judge Ted Fisher could limit his ruling to the Medicine Hat area in which the men hunted or he may rule broadly, which could impact the entire province, saying Métis have the right to harvest throughout Alberta.

Guidelines encourage rulings to be made within six months, but Teillet said it could take longer. She noted that there is over a year’s worth of evidence to be taken into consideration, with 42 actual trial days.

There are 36 other Métis harvesters facing similar charges across the province. Teillet doesn’t expect any of these to go to trial before the Medicine Hat ruling is made.

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