Kudos to Judge Del Atwood of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court. On January 21, 2016, Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation pleaded guilty to pollution charges under the Canadian Fisheries Act. Northern Pulp and the Crown Prosecutor had reached a plea bargain. However, Judge Atwood refused to proceed with the sentencing until he heard from Pictou Landing First Nation. The sentencing has been adjourned to March 23, 2016 when Judge Atwood will consider the victim impact statement prepared by the First Nation community.

The pollution charges stem from an incident on June 10, 2014 when a pipeline carrying effluent to the infamous Boat Harbor treatment facility sprung a leak. Millions of litres of raw industrial waste (effluent) made its way over land claimed by way of Aboriginal title near a Mi’kmaq burial ground at Indian Cross Point and into the East River of Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

Northern Pulp was forced to shut down its entire mill operation to stop the flow of effluent. However, the leak sparked outrage in the First Nation community and lead to a blockade which prevented Northern Pulp from repairing the leak. The mill remained closed for 11 days until the Province agreed to introduce a law by June 30, 2015 which would set a date for the closure of the treatment facility. In March 2015 the Province enacted the Boat Harbour Act which will outlaw the use of Boat Harbour as a treatment facility on January 30, 2020.

Before passing sentence on Northern Pulp, Judge Atwood will now be able to read the views of the Pictou Landing First Nation. The victim impact statement was prepared by Chief and Council in consultation with members of the community who worked in small groups at a community meeting to describe how the pollution impacted them. In the victim impact statement, which took the form of a letter from Chief Andrea Paul to Judge Atwood, Chief Paul expressed the community’s gratitude to the Judge for giving it a chance to have its voice heard. Neither the Crown nor Northern Pulp had done so.

Given the nearly 50 years that Pictou Landing First Nation have put up with pollution from the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility which was forced upon them in 1967 without their informed consent and under false pretences, it is encouraging to see the justice system asking the community to be part of the sentencing process. It reminds me of the solemn promise made by Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher in 1761 to the Mi’kmaq representatives gathered to sign the Treaty of Peace and Friendship:

“The Laws will be like a great Hedge about your Rights and Properties, if any break this Hedge to hurt and injure you, the heavy weight of the laws will fall upon them, and punish their disobedience.”

Recognition and protection of Aboriginal rights in the Province is a worthy goal and long overdue.

I’ll post the Pictou Landing First Nation Victim Impact Statement once it is filed with the Court and publically available.

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