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Trial stalled when witness freezes


Roberta Avery, Windspeaker Contributor, Owen Sound Ontario







Page 5

Violence came at the height of the tension that flared up in the summer of 1995 between Natives who fish Georgian Bay commercially and sports anglers.

Two young men from the Cape Croker reserve north of Owen Sound were stabbed while police, some witnesses say, watched from behind a fence.

Two years have passed since the attack, but the Chippewas of Nawash will have to wait at least until next year seeing some justice. The trial of Kelly Kirkwood, 25, and his cousin Darrell McGregor, 26, both of no fixed address, ground to a halt on the second day when a key prosecution witness froze on the stand.

It took almost a year, and a lot of pressure from the Nawash band, before any charges were laid, though there were dozens of witnesses to the incident. Three weeks ago it appeared the Crown, citing a lack of evidence, planned to drop the case against the two suspects.

On Sept. 29, Ralph Akiwenzie, chief of the Chippewas of Nawash, and about 80 supporters gathered to begin a protest outside the Owen Sound courthouse. But just as the protest was begun it was announced a trial would start on Oct. 6.

Kirkwood and McGregor each face two counts of aggravated assault and one count of possessing a dangerous weapon in connection with the stabbings.

Their cousin Rebecca McGregor, 27, fell silent while telling the court that she was with Kirkwood and McGregor on the night in question.

After much prompting by Judge B. Fraser, McGregor said she had been subpoenaed to testify, but feared repercussions from her family if she testified against her cousins.

When it became evident she was unable to continue, Crown attorney Owen Haw asked that a statement she gave police nine months after the incident be entered as evidence. This prompted protests from Kirkwood's and McGregor's defence.

Judge Fraser adjourned the trial until Jan. 12, but said he will rule on Haw's application in late November.

Jeff Keeshig, 21, was stabbed four times, three times in the back and once in the shoulder, in the 1995 incident. His cousin Aaron Keeshig, also 21, was slashed in the face and will bear the scar for life, said Akiwenzie.

Jeff Keeshig's fiancee Amanda Proctor from the Osage reservation in Oklahoma was studying at Harvard University when she heard about the stabbings.

"It was a terrible shock, I couldn't believe it had happened,'" she said. She decided to attend the trial because she knew testifying would be very difficult for her fiancee because it made him relive the incident.

Jeff Keeshig told the court he thinks the fight in that dark alley was fuelled by racism. He questioned why police, who watched for as long as 20 minutes some witnesses say, didn't intervene.

Owen Sound police said they were badly outnumbered partly because 10 minutes earlier two officers had been assaulted in another incident.

About two dozen members of the Nawash band supported by non-Native people from the Neighbors of Nawash group attended each day of the trial.

During the summer of 1995, the backlash against Nawash fishing rights took a nasty turn, said Akiwenzie. Thousands of metres of Nawash fishing nets were stolen or vandalized, their boats were also vandalized and one was sunk and a week after it was salvaged, it was set afire.

"No charges were ever laid in the many incidents of property damage against Nawash fishermen. The Nawash community sees the stabbings as part of that backlash," he said, adding that it is important that his people get some closure to this incident.