July 22, 2009
Shawn Brant gets five-month sentence
from the Belleville Intelligencer: http://www.intelligencer.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1668009
Native protester Shawn Brant will spend the next five months behind bars for his involvement in two road and bridge blockades on Tyendinaga Territory.
Justice Stephen Hunter handed down the sentence Wednesday on charges against Brant stemming from a blockade on York Road in October 2008, and the recent blockade of the Skyway Bridge. Those two incidents netted Brant charges of mischief and failing to comply with court orders for similar previous convictions.
One lone witness testified during the proceedings — defence lawyer Rob Smart called Paul Smart to the stand. Paul Smart was asked to give the court some insight into the decision-making process — specifically involving the Skyway Bridge blockade — when it comes to setting up protests and blockades.
The court heard that a meeting was called with representatives of the “stone longhouse” asking how Tyendinaga could show support for Akwesasne Mohawks’ opposition to the proposed arming of Canada Customs officers on that reserve. A number of ideas emerged, ranging from blocking rail lines to “peaceful protests with signs.” In the end, he said, it was decided the Skyway Bridge linking Prince Edward County to Deseronto and Tyendinaga was chosen.
Lawyer Smart questioned Paul Smart, who admitted to being involved in the blockade, as to whether Brant was the sole decision-maker on the blockade.
“I would say not,” Paul said. “The (stone longhouse) community itself makes the decisions.”
Crown attorney Lee Burgess questioned whether the entire Tyendinaga community supported the blockade? Paul Smart said the meeting with longhouse representatives only included 25 to 35 people.
“In our society, people don’t speak against stuff,” Paul Smart said. “If you don’t speak, then you are in agreement.”
Burgess questioned Paul Smart on letters from the Akwesasne Mohawks delivered to the protesters. Those letters stated, Burgess said, that the Tyendinaga Mohawks did not have the support of the Akwesasne Mohawks yet, after being delivered to Shawn Brant, the protest continued.
Paul Smart testified a delegation of four local Mohawks travelled to Akwesasne and met with community representatives there to discuss local actions and were not told to take down the blockade. The message that delegation brought back to the blockade, he said, was that the Tyendinaga support was appreciated and they could not be told by members of the other reserve what to do.
During his summation, Burgess noted Brant has worked with government agencies in an attempt to address water and land claim issues on the reserve, but his participation in blockades amount to a “one step forward, two steps back” process. He argued Brant opted to continue with the blockade even after receiving the letters from Akwesasne and without support from the Tyendinaga Mohawk community.
“This blockade was done without the consultation of the majority of the community,” Burgess said. “It’s clear, obviously, they did not want this blockade to occur.”
Brant’s lawyer, however, argued that his client’s ongoing involvement in such protests are a reflection of Brant’s convictions toward his community and his efforts to improve the lives of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory residents. He discussed Brant’s previous protests which were Brant insists are due to unclean water, the proposed expansion of the Richmond Landfill and other issues which negatively impact the lives of residents.
“He always has reasons for doing it and they’re not reasons that benefit Shawn Brant,” his lawyer said. “I’m not sure what the answer is in these situations. What should we do with somebody like Shawn? ... My personal feeling is he’s a fairly moral and caring individual.”
Burgess argued Brant’s charges are not related to environmental issues and were not the reasons for the court case.
Brant spoke briefly, supporting Smart’s comments. He spoke at length about ongoing water issues on the reserve that have forced families to use community showers due to contaminants in wells and the dumping of toxic materials on Tyendinaga land.
All of these issues, he said, eventually come to a boiling point.
“There comes a point when the indignity of the daily lives of our people just explodes,” Brant said from the defendant’s box. “A lot of it is based on simple things like water.”
Protests and blockades stem from these issues and the need for people to take notice of the issues families on the reserve face, he said.
“I’ve always stepped forward and met the consequences and have been willing to do it,” Brant said. “These issues may not seem relevant ... but I think you’re wrong Mr. Burgess.”
Hunter said deciding on Brant’s sentencing was “difficult” because the blockades stir up Quinte area communities. But Hunter said he also understands how frustrated the residents on the reserve are because they feel they are not being heard and their issues not addressed.
“You are an articulate representative of what those frustrations are, but you also understand that I am required to ensure the laws of this country are respected,” Hunter said to Brant.
Before delivering the sentence of five months, Hunter said while it’s clear Brant must serve time for his latest violations, he would also like to see the various levels of government work together to address the issues on Tyendinaga Territory.