Bev and Nicole Manuel win right to appeal charges from Sun Peaks blockade

Posted by admin on Mar 31st, 2007

Vancouver Sun, 31 March 2007, Darah Hansen

A mother and daughter, members of the Secwepemc First Nation in B.C.’s southern Interior, have won the right to appeal their 2002 convictions for taking part in a roadblock on the Sun Peaks Road near Kamloops one year earlier.In a hearing earlier this month before the B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver, Nicole Valencia Manuel, 30, and her mother Beverly Phylis Manuel, 51, argued through their lawyer they believed they had the legal right under aboriginal law to participate in the Sun Peaks roadblock in August, 2001.

The roadblock was set up in response to a controversial ski hill development on land claimed by the Secwepemc (or Shuswap) people as traditional territory. Protesters said the development threatened traditional hunting and medicinal plant-gathering grounds on the mountain, as well as several sacred sites.

“My grandparents and my great-grandparents, they used to walk up that mountain. It was a gathering area for people in this area,” Bev Manuel said in a phone interview Friday.

“We’ve always been told to take care of the land, and that’s what we’re telling the courts,” she said.

The argument failed in 2002, when both women were convicted in provincial court on charges of unlawful obstruction of a road. At that time, the provincial court judge, while accepting the sincerity of the women’s beliefs, determined they were pursuing a moral right under the “law of the Creator”, rather than a legal right.

The convictions were upheld on appeal to the B.C. Supreme Court in November, 2004. Bev Manuel served one year on probation, while Nicole spent 30 days in prison.

Within days of Nicole’s release, both mother and daughter filed a second appeal. At the time, Bev Manuel said, neither woman was feeling particularly hopeful, but they were determined not to give up.

“This is our life. It’s our ancestors’ lives. It’s our future,” she said.

On March 8, an application for leave to appeal the case was heard in Vancouver, and on Tuesday Justice Risa Levine granted her consent.

“I am persuaded that the appellants (Bev and Nicole Manuel) have raised an issue of law of importance that has not previously been addressed by this court,” the judge noted in her ruling.

Murray Browne, a lawyer working in aboriginal issues with the Victoria-based firm Woodward and Company, said the court’s decision to grant the appeal was “fairly significant.”

“Because the implication is that first nations people who feel they are defending their territory cannot be just summarily removed with injunctions from companies or the government,” he said.

Browne said the ruling appears to be part of a trend by the courts recognizing aboriginal perspective in law — “that when first nations people stand on a road or protest mining or development, that they may have some legal basis to do so.”

Bev Manuel said her goal is to encourage other first nations people to stand up for what they believe in.

“As a mother, and a grandmother, we have to become vocal about what is important to us as a people, for future generations. Otherwise, where will we go in this world?” she said.

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