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James and Zarelli face criminal contempt charges at trial scheduled for May

Colin Payne
By Colin Payne
March 20th, 2014

Marilyn James and Dennis Zarelli of the Sinixt Nation will be going to trial in May to face charges of criminal contempt of court laid against them by the Crown in Nelson Provincial Court on Monday in relation to the Sinixt blockade of Perry Ridge Forest Service Road.

James and Zarelli were arrested in the early morning of March 4 when they allegedly refused to allow Galena Contractors access to Perry Ridge Forest Service Road, where the company is building a road to access planned logging cut blocks on Perry Ridge in the Slocan Valley – despite an court injunction prohibiting any interference with the company that was extended by Justice Mark McEwan the day before the alleged incident.

At their hearing in Nelson the same day, James and Zarelli refused to agree not to return to the site of the blockade and were jailed by Justice McEwan until they changed their minds – which they did shortly and were released.

Both were scheduled to be back in court on March 17 for their contempt or court hearing, but only James appeared along with an individual who identified himself only as Justin. Justin said he had a statement to read from Zarelli – who was unable to attend due to the sudden death of his wife, which required him to be out of town during the proceedings.

Justice McEwan refused to allow Justin to read the statement and Zarelli’s absence did not go over well with McEwan who said that Zarelli doesn’t get to choose whether or not he comes to court.

McEwan mused about issuing an arrest warrant for Zarelli due to his failure to appear,

but Crown Prosecutor Trevor Shaw said Zarelli had notified him of the death in his family that kept him from being in court that day, and they chose to go ahead and set a date for the trial despite his absence.

Standing resolutely before the court, arm-in-arm with Justin, James haggled with McEwan and Shaw about dates before McEwan set the date for a one-day trial on May 20, 2014 at 10 a.m. and a pre-trial hearing on March 31 at 9:30 a.m.

Council for Galena Contractors attended the hearing via telephone and said the company would like to participate in the criminal trial proceedings.

Consultation, protection needed: James

Speaking outside the courthouse, where the Sinixt and backers held a lively parade and rally to help create community awareness and support, James said the government needs to develop consistency with how it consult with First Nations groups and private companies need to understand the need to protect resources and heritage sites.

“There are certain things that require protection,” James said.

“Just over the hill from the road building and the proposed logging block is a 12,500 year-old pit house (at Lemon Creek). That’s older than the pyramids by a few thousand years. How do you think the public would respond to someone going in and endangering the pyramids?

“There are also basic human rights at stake,” she added.

“Canada is in contravention of international law when it comes to basic human rights. Where is it that Canadians think that Indian people from here, who have been here; who have stood up here; who are a part of this landscape and have been for 12,500 years don’t deserve to be spoken to? If the prosecutor wants to take that tact, and if this McEwan character wants to take that tact, then I think we have to take them to task, because I think that Canada in general wants to fall in line with bringing domestic laws in alignment with international laws that protect my human rights as a Sinixt person here.”

James feels her recent arrest and the subsequent court proceedings have brought renewed attention to the Sinixt longstanding quest for recognition.

“I think it’s going to bring a little focus to the forefront,” she noted.

“I think the fact that they arrested me last week brought a lot of attention to this issue. I think it’s going international now. That’s part of the issue we want to bring forward.”

Categories: GeneralPolitics

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