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News from the North: A digest of First Nations news from Canada

C-7 update

OTTAWA - The flaws of the First Nations Governance Act became apparent on June 3 when more than 100 amendments were introduced to the controversial update of the 126-year old Indian Act.

New Democratic Party Indian affairs critic and Member of Parliament Pat Martin said the act, also known as Bill C-7, now has more amendments than it does clauses.

"This seems to me to be a recipe for disaster," Martin said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Martin and the NDP along with the Bloc Quebecois, a Quebec nationalist party, have been some of the most vocal parliamentary opponents to C-7.

The Assembly of First Nations, representing over 650 aboriginal communities with a status Native population of more than 700,000, and its National Chief Matthew Coon Come have led the lobby effort against C-7.

Coon Come has consistently stated in the year since C-7 was first introduced that his organization will not support tinkering with the Indian Act and that the proposed bill will infringe on the constitutionally enshrined right to aboriginal self-government.

The future of C-7 is likely to include a legal challenge from the First Nations, according to statements from Coon Come. In addition, the leading candidate to replace Chr?tien as leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Paul Martin has publicly stated that his administration will "revisit" C-7.

For his part, Minister of Indian Affairs Robert Nault told reporters he thinks the bill will eventually pass despite the amendments and the resulting debate.

Dumping investigation launched

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - A Native man has alleged he and two companions were unnecessarily picked up by the Winnipeg police and taken miles outside of the city limits.

According to a report from the Can-West News Service, Garret Barthelette, 21, and two other Native men were walking in the inner city on the night of April 15 when they were arrested, handcuffed, and driven over 10 miles outside of the city limits where they were "abandoned" by the Winnipeg police.

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Barthelette told investigators that police forced them to remove their shoes, which they later recovered on the roadside, and forced them to walk back into the city at which point they were picked up again by other police who drove them home after listening to their story.

The Winnipeg Police Department could not be reached for comment.

Indian Country Today reported on a similar case in March involving the Saskatoon police department and their abandoning of Darrell Night in January 2000 in sub-zero temperatures in the countryside. An investigation of that incident led to an RCMP investigation which resulted in the conviction of former police officers Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson. Munson and Hatchen's appeal was denied in March 2003 and they are currently serving eight-month sentences for unlawful confinement.

Supreme Court judge cleared of bias in land claim case

OTTAWA - The Justice Department of Canada has exonerated Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ian Binnie of issuing a bias decision in a December 2002 case involving an inter-tribal land claim on May 30.

Binnie wrote the 9-0 decision that rejected claims by two bands to each other's territory, a case he had been directly involved with while serving as a senior official at the Justice Department in 1985 - 1986.

The case came to light after one of the litigants, the Wemakuym band, filed freedom-of-information requests detailing Binnie's former involvement of the case.

A report on the investigation, initiated at the request of the Supreme Court, said that no reasonable person could find any bias in the Binnie's decision.

The basis of the Justice Department finding was Justice Binnie's word that he did not recall being involved with the case when he was an associate deputy minister.

In a report in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, legal scholars said Binnie's word may have been "good enough" for the Justice Department, but more needed to be done to prevent and expose judicial bias and conflicts of interest in similar future cases.

Please direct your questions or comments on News from the North or First Nations issues in Canada to Robert Taylor at