MNO Congratulates Lepage Family for their Perseverance in Pressing for Justice

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louiseLouise Goulding, who stood for the Lepage family in court, holding
smudge feathers presented to her by Irene Peel, a member of the
local Métis community. Peel who attended the trial to support the
Lepage family presented the feathers after charges were dropped
by the Crown.

Orillia, ON (August 12, 2011) — After only two days day in court, the Crown has withdrawn all charges against Métis commercial fisherman Bernie Lepage. Yesterday, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) publicly supported the Lepage family in its battle and the family also had the widespread support of the Métis community, many who came to the Orillia court house to show their solidarity. Louise Goulding, Lepage’s sister, who stood for the family in court, stated: “It was very comforting to know the MNO, the Ontario Commercial Fishery Association and most importantly, our community, were behind us from the beginning.”

The case revolved around charges laid against Lepage for going over quota on incidental lake trout in 2007. This incidental catch is impossible to avoid and the overage represented less than 1% of his total quota. In other parts of the province, commercial fishermen are not charged for these incidental catches, and have the ability to pay overage amounts to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), without being prosecuted. As well, other Aboriginal commercial fisheries that have had incidental catches have not been charged by the MNR.

The issue for the Lepage family was that the MNR’s approach essentially criminalized them for doing something that is impossible to avoid in the operation of their authorized commercial fishery. A regulatory conviction could have been used against the Lepage family in the future with respect to their commercial fishing license or quota allocation. Moreover, the MNR’s policies are inconsistent throughout the province and were being arbitrarily applied to the Lepage family, even though they are an Aboriginal commercial fishery that should be treated in a similar matter to First Nation commercial fishing operations.

“It is unfortunate that Métis commercial fishing families continue to face this type of harassment and unequal treatment by the MNR,” stated MNO President Gary Lipinski, “Today’s withdrawal of charges is a testament to the perseverance of the Lepage family. I congratulate them on pressing for justice.”

The Lepage family, like many Métis families along the shores of Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and throughout the Great Lakes, have supported themselves and their communities for generations by fishing commercially and for food.
Commercial fishing was and remains fundamental to the culture and traditions of Ontario Métis. The industry also provides employment and a food source for all of Ontario. This case is important because Métis commercial fishing operations continue to be unfairly harassed by the MNR on a wide variety of issues; and are not dealt with as Aboriginal commercial fisheries, which essentially ignores the landmark Powley decision from the Supreme Court of Canada
“I will be writing to the MNR Minister to once again press for a meaningful process to address these issues of importance to Metis commercial fisheries, along with other Metis land and resource issues, so these issues do not continue to be pushed to the courts,” stated Lipinski.