Judge apologizes to Mohawks, lawyer

Posted by admin on Dec 15th, 2005

Judge apologizes to Mohawks, lawyer. Suggested 13 rioters were using attorney to mislead her. Jeff Heinrich The Gazette

St.Jerome – All she wanted was an apology to the victims of a riot. But in the end, she was the sorry one. Denounced by one angry Mohawk for her “racist, unbelievable” attitude, a Quebec Superior Court judge apologized to Mohawks and their defence lawyer yesterday after telling the attorney she suspected his clients were using him to mislead her.

At the sentencing hearing of 13 men convicted in connection with a riot in January 2004 in Kanesatake, Judge Nicole Duval Hesler told lawyer Jeffrey Boro she didn’t believe the men were in any way sorry for their actions – on the contrary.

Boro had tried to tell the judge that his clients and their supporters are trying to heal rifts in their fractious community, 50 kilometers west of Montreal. “To be blunt, I have a feeling you’re being used.” Hesler told Boro. “I attach no blame to you whatsoever – (just) the sincerity of your clients, is all.”

She later apologized after Boro’s colleague, defence lawyer Daniel Lighter, passionately challenged her on the statement. “I’m really sorry if I’ve impugned your reputation or hurt your feelings, Hesler told Boro. “I’m really, really sorry.” When Boro replied he’d taken her comment more as an insult to “the Mohawk Nation,” Hesler added” “Well, then I apologize to the Mohawk nation, as well.”

The exchange began after Boro said one of his clients, Brad Gabriel, began publishing this week a free community newspaper, the Kanehsatake Times, as part of a “healing process” for all people in Kanesatake. Handed a copy, Hesler noted the publication was just two pieces of letter-size paper stapled together. Turning to the back of the first, she remarked on a passage that criticizes the six chiefs on Kanesatake’s band council who are at odds with Grand Chief Steven Bonspille, an outspoken supporter of the accused.

“It’s a pamphlet – it’s not what I expect,” Hesler said. “M’lady, I don’t know what you expect,” Boro replied. “An apology,” Hesler said – specifically, an apology to the 67 aboriginal police officers and special constables whom the rioters had kept holed up in Kanesatake’s police station for 36 hours.

When the jury gave its verdict six weeks ago, Hesler told the convicted men she would look favourably on anything they did in the meantime to make amends for their acts and to make peace in Kanesatake. It would be her way to exercise “restorative justice” in an aboriginal community, she said.  Yesterday, she threw out that notion. “We’ll forget restorative justice. It’s not going to happen,” Hesler told Boro. Rather, in the absence of proof of real reconciliation, traditional sentencing is how she would proceed. “I still see two sides, and I still see each blaming the other.”

When Boro protested that the Mohawks were showing they’re sorry by their new “peace initiative” – the newsletter, an Internet message board, a Christmas party Monday night to give each local child a toy, and plans to build a Mohawk research centre and an arena – Hesler told him she thought he was being used.

That prompted an angry outburst from the audience. “Racist!” yelled John Harding, an ally of the convicted men. “Unbelievable!” the former Kanesatake band councilor continued from the front row of the packed courtroom before storming out. “She wants us to apologize like good little Indians,” he said outside the courthouse.

After hearing sentencing suggestions by Crown prosecutor Francois Briere – ranging from jail time (perhaps a month each) for rioters with criminal records, like brothers Gary and Robert Gabriel, to conditional discharges for Mohawks with unblemished records convicted of the lesser offence of unlawful assembly – Hesler said she would pass sentence Jan.20. That was a relief for the families of some of the Mohawks, who had come to court with a set of overnight clothes, expecting to be in jail over Christmas. “I wish you all the very best of holidays,” Hesler said with a smile. “And I’ll see you in the new year.”

jheinrich at thegazette.canwest.com

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