Two Mohawks cleared, one convicted

Two Mohawks cleared, one convicted

Posted By Luke Hendry
The Belleville Intelligencer (Ontario)
Apr 15, 2008

A protester from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory was convicted here Tuesday on charges of assault and mischief in a confrontation 18 months ago with Canadian Armed Forces soldiers near the territory.

But two protesters, cleared on charges related to the blockade of an army convoy in 2006, say they will continue their fight to return disputed land to the area’s First Nations people.

Shawn Michael Brant and Jerome Barnhart were found not guilty Monday of uttering threats against Canadian soldiers in Deseronto on Nov. 15, 2006. Justice Charles Anderson cleared Brant of three charges; Barnhart was cleared of two, plus one count of mischief.

Anderson found a third protester, Mario Baptiste Jr., guilty on all three counts against him: two counts of assault for punching two soldiers, and one count of mischief for his attack on a military pickup truck.

“Mr. Anderson made a decision on the facts and not a decision on the political environment,” Brant said.

“The charges were about threats,” he said. “We don’t make threats about our actions; we just carry them out.”

The case, he said, was more “about putting us on conditions” than anything else.

As Baptiste Jr., Barnhart, and Brant stood outside the courthouse with a few friends after the hearing, the two acquitted men said they had already suffered because of the charges.

“I just think it’s terribly ironic,” Barnhart said of the charges being dismissed after 18 months of court-ordered conditions.

“I spent two months in jail because of this; I’ve been on conditions for 18 months,” Brant said. “To have them set aside like this is a hollow victory at best.”

Each of the three reiterated his commitment to seeing the Culbertson Land Tract placed permanently under Mohawk control.

“No one should take this as a diminishment of our commitment to the land and the issue at hand,” said Brant. “We’re going to protect the land.”

“This is our land and it was a larcenous theft, and we’re going to take it back,” Barnhart said. “We’ve got a job to finish.”

The charges were laid after a group of protesters blocked a convoy of five 10-ton army trucks and one half-ton pickup travelling along Highway 2 at Deseronto Road, detaining the vehicles and crew for just over an hour.

In his reasons for judgement, Anderson said the soldiers, who were based at CFB Borden near Barrie, were on a training exercise and travelling from Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County toward Kingston.

The protesters, meanwhile, had been staging a protest over proposed development over the Culbertson tract when the army trucks rolled through town.

“Innocently the convoy stumbled onto the blockade,” said Anderson, calling the stoppage a “hornet’s nest” in which the soldiers showed “exemplary” behaviour by remaining calm and trying to defuse the tension.

Anderson noted the defence called no witnesses, arguing instead only that the Crown had failed to prove its case fully.

The judge agreed with that argument in regard to the counts against Brant and Barnhart. He said he could not find them guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” because of “weaknesses” in the Crown’s case pertaining to the pair.

That, he said, was not a criticism of police and military police investigators, nor of the soldiers themselves.

“The issue is not their (credibility); it is the reliability of their evidence,” Anderson said of the soldiers.

Anderson said their testimony was conflicted and that Brant and Barnhart had been identified by the troops after they had already seen an Intelligencer photo of them confronting one soldier during the blockade.

The judge also cited a language barrier between the French-speaking troops and English-speaking protesters as one reason why the threats could not be proven, since at least one soldier admitted he didn’t understand all the “nasty expressions in English,” as Anderson said. He added some of the soldiers’ testimony did not match the photographic record of the blockade, a point he found “troublesome” and one which “did not sit comfortably” with the court.

“It may well be that Barnhart and Brant uttered threats,” said Anderson, again saying it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The judge, however, said the evidence against Baptiste Jr. was much stronger.

The accused’s red hair and hearing aid made him recognizable, the judge said, and not only did police identify him during the incident, but the Crown’s case was helped by photographs of Baptiste Jr. at the scene taken by a Napanee newspaper reporter.

Baptiste Jr. remains free pending sentencing, which will occur after a pre-sentencing report has been completed. Anderson noted it could take eight weeks to prepare the report.

Baptiste Jr.’s next court date is April 22, when lawyers will discuss possible sentencing dates.

Crown attorney Richard Floyd declined to comment on the case, but said in court he would seek jail time for Baptiste Jr.

Brant, meanwhile, noted the unusually high security at the trial made it “hard for people to perceive us as not being a threat.”

Provincial police officers in tactical uniforms were stationed at the courthouse and anyone entering the room during the trial and verdict was scanned with a handheld metal detector.

“It’s something no one else is subjected to,” Brant said. “It’s the police trying to influence the outcome of these court cases.”

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