by Kenneth Deer
The Montreal Gazette
Sunday 9 April 2000
Reprinted for Educational purposes onlyThe decision by the Quebec Superior Court to remove the judge presiding over a $500- million Cree forestry lawsuit smacks of racism. People are chosen to be judges because they have a good grasp of the law and are objective and fair. Judge Jean-Jacques Croteau was such a judge. But because he ruled in favour of the Crees on a side motion in which he declared that the Quebec government had "openly and continually violated" Cree rights under the James Bay agreement, the government of Quebec and 27 logging companies appealed the ruling and, along with Canada, demanded that Judge Croteau be removed from hearing the lawsuit. The involvement of the federal government in such a case is almost unprecedented. Only once before, in 1968, has the Crown asked a judge to be removed from a civil case, and that request was turned down. Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice Lyse Lemieux, who heard the motion, agreed to remove the judge not because of any poor judging. On the contrary, she said that Croteau's ruling was fair and lawful. She removed him because she felt that the general Canadian public could gain the impression that the judge, because of his ruling in favour of the Crees, might be regarded as biased against the forestry companies, Quebec and Canada - which would erode the Canadian public's confidence in the court system. Superior Court Judge Lemieux obviously does not consider the indigenous people, the Cree, as part of the Canadian public. The case before the courts affects them more than the general public. Chief Justice Lemieux cannot see that by removing Croteau, she has eroded Cree confidence in the court system and, by extension, the confidence of all the other indigenous peoples in Canada. The federal government had already presented a list of 37 judges whom they did not want involved in the case before it even went to court. Judge Croteau is now the 38th. This is just another example of the institutionalized racism that exists in Canada. The judiciary cannot see its own bias in the application of its justice to the indigenous peoples; when it comes to fairness, the court system must be fair to the general public even if it is at the expense of the indigenous peoples. This is the rub. This is where Canada fails miserably when it comes to meting out justice. Canada and its court system are more interested in public perceptions than in a fair and objective application of law and the delivery of justice. How can the Crees or Mohawks have any confidence in a court system that allows judges to be removed if the government does not like them? What has happened to the separation between the executive branch of government and the judiciary? There seems to be no such separation of powers in Canada. And if the Crees appeal this ruling? What will the appeal judge decide? That the chief justice of the Superior Court was wrong? Don't count on it. And if the Quebec government and the logging companies appeal Judge Croteau's side decision, how will the removal of the judge affect the judgment of the appeal court? The credibility of the justice system is at stake here. It is to be expected that the justice system will protect itself and uphold the institutionalized racism that permeates it. How would Quebec react if the federal government, in a case against it, made a motion to remove a judge because he decided for Quebec in a side motion? The Quebec government would scream treachery and decry the Canadian justice system as biased against French Quebec, which would further the separatist cause. And would anyone blame Quebec for wanting to leaving Canada? But this is only the Cree people. The federal and Quebec governments cannot see the bias and racist use of the justice system. The Crees cannot be blamed for reviewing the James Bay Agreement with the purpose of tearing it up. The agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on if there is no real justice system to enforce it.
The Gazette Board of Contributors: Kenneth Deer is editor of the Eastern Door, the Kahnawake Mohawk territory newspaper. The views of contributors are not necessarily those of The Gazette.