Judge rules Ottawa to pay for Burnt Church defendants

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Wednesday, May 16, 2001

MIRAMICHI, N.B. – A judge in Miramichi, N.B., has ruled that the government will have to pay for lawyers for at least two members of the Burnt Church band. 

John David Dedam and Brian Bartibogue are two of more than a dozen band members charged with various offences during a dispute over native fishing rights last summer. 

Both Dedam and Bartibogue told judge William McCarroll they could not afford to hire a lawyer. Because of the complexities of the case, the judge ruled that forcing them to represent themselves would violate the Charter of Rights. 

He went on to tell the court these cases have national interest, and could have an impact on hundreds of native fishermen. 

Bartibogue is encouraged by the decision and he hopes it will deter the government from laying any more fishing charges against aboriginal people. 

“Maybe they’ll start negotiating with our people as a legal obligation in good faith. Maybe they’ll stop charging so many of us as if it was a kid in a candy store,” he said. 

When the trials finally get underway, they are expected to take months, or even years. 

That could leave the government with a tab of several million dollars. 

But McCarroll’s decision isn’t written in stone. Crown lawyer Denis Lavoie says he could appeal the decision. “We’re going to have to review what has happened in court today. Review the decision and see what we’re going to do, if we’re going to appeal or not. ” 

Judge McCarroll will decide at the end of the month whether six other natives from Burnt Church will also have their legal fees covered by the government.