Lawyer removed from Alton Gas case after inflammatory arguments
Alex Cameron, a lawyer who argued on behalf of the provincial government that the Sipekne’katik Band was a conquered people, has been removed from the Alton Gas case that is before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
The lawyer who disparaged Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq population in a divisive legal brief presented to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court has been removed from the Alton Gas case.
The Sipekne’katik Band, located primarily in Indian Brook, Hants County, appealed the province’s January decision to give the Alton natural gas storage project the go-ahead and the case made its way to the Supreme Court in mid-November.
In his brief, Alex Cameron, a Justice Department lawyer, reached back to the 1700s and cited a report from a British military officer that identified the Sipekne’katik Band as one of the Atlantic Canadian native groups that had relinquished sovereignty to the British Crown.
The Sipekne’katik Band is a conquered people and, consequently, the Nova Scotia government has no duty to consult them about the Alton Gas project, Cameron argued.
When the brief came to light, it caused a firestorm of angry reaction from the Mi’kmaq community that culminated in Premier Stephen McNeil apologizing to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs two weeks ago.
“It is a good thing,” Chief Robert Gloade of Millbrook First Nation, who had been very animated in his opposition to Cameron’s characterization of the Sipekne’katik Band, said of the lawyer’s removal from the case.
“I sent a letter to the premier and had discussions with him regarding that and the main intention was to have him (Cameron) removed from the file for his position,” Gloade said Thursday as he was preparing to return home from the three-day national Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Que.
“Even after the Marshall decision in 1999, that was the position that we had to have him removed from all First Nations files dealing with litigation in regard to the position of the province with First Nations people,” Gloade said.
Cameron has been replaced on the Alton file by Ed Gores.
Michel Samson, the acting attorney general, didn’t say if Cameron would face any further discipline or if Cameron would be prohibited from working on any future cases involving the Mi’kmaq.
The chiefs had formally requested in 1999 that Cameron no longer provide the province advice or representation on any Mi’kmaq issues. That request was a response to Cameron’s book Power without Law, in which he expressed the opinion that the 1999 Donald Marshall decision by the Supreme Court of Canada was wrong.
Cameron argued in the book that the Mi’kmaq have no more treaty right to hunt, fish and gather than do any other group of people living in the province who trace their lineage to countries around the globe.
“To me, it’s absolutely ridiculous that this individual continues this rhetoric,” Chief Terrance Paul of Membertou, co-chairman of the assembly, said after last month’s meeting with the premier. “It’s a personal opinion really. That’s all it is. It’s not based on legal fact or moral fact. That we simply accepted the sovereignty of a foreign body is ridiculous.”
Gloade referred to Cameron’s “conquered people” description as a racist taunt.
“At its worst, it has been used against Indigenous Canadians to perpetuate or justify a state of inferior legal, social or socio-economic conditions,” Gloade said at the time. “We’ve all heard it: ‘Indians lost. You were conquered. History is history, too bad, get over it.’ ”
Naiomi Metallic, a lawyer, a law professor and chair of aboriginal law and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said last month that Cameron’s position is not reinforced by law.
“He wrote a book on how he feels that the Marshall decision was wrongly decided,” Metallic said. “That may well be his position but this is the law of Canada and it is to be followed. There is this thing called the rule of law and if there is a decision of the Supreme Court, you follow it. The Nova Scotia government is bound by it.”
The premier made every effort to distance himself from Cameron’s position before his public apology.
“The words that were attached to a brief that went before the court were not mine and not my feelings,” McNeil said. “I believe the foundation of this province and this country is in those treaties. We have a duty to consult, the Supreme Court has dealt with this issue a long time ago and it’s my responsibility as the premier of this province to make sure that we follow through on respecting the rights of the Mi’kmaq.”
The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs accepted the premier’s apology in November and Gloade accepted Cameron’s removal Thursday.
“This is a good thing,” he said.
Justice Suzanne Hood is expected to hand down her decision in the Sipeke’katik appeal in January.