NunatuKavut elder James Learning back in court on January 10, facing seven charges
© Derek Montague
James (Jim) Learning stands on the provincial courthouse steps after his brief hearing on November 28. Learning is facing seven charges and is due back in court January 10.
NunatuKavut elder James (Jim) Learning will have to wait until Jan. 10th to answer to seven charges he’s facing in Happy Valley-Goose Bay Provincial Court.
The delay was caused when Learning appeared in court on Nov. 28 and told the judge he would like to get a lawyer through legal aid. Learning says he was prepared to represent himself, but his circle of friends and supporters advised him otherwise.
The seven charges mainly stem from Muskrat Falls' related protests Learning participated in since December of 2012.
He is facing three counts of disobeying a court injunction by “unlawfully interfering with the performance of Nalcor’s construction work on the Caroline Brook Forestry Access Road or at the Site...” and “by approaching within 50 meters of the Caroline Brook Forestry Access Road…”
Two of his charges is for disobeying an undertaking to “Keep the Peace and Be of Good Behaviour,” which he received after his initial arrest in December of 2012.
He is also facing single charges of obstructing a police officer “in the execution of his duty…” and obstructing others from using of Route 510 of the Trans Labrador Highway.
Learning says that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, claiming when he was charged on the three occasions, he was exercising his right to protest.
“I know, for one, I’m definitely not guilty on all counts,” said Learning after his brief court hearing on Nov. 28th. “I’m guilty of being a citizen who’s been wronged, guilty of defending a civil right (to protest).”
“If they want to put a criminal thing in there, they know that’s a problem with them.”
Learning’s legal troubles began on Dec. 11, 2012, when he and two other NunatuKavut elders walked passed the entrance to the Caroline Brook Access Road, just a week after there was a court injunction against people approaching within 50 metres of the road.
At the time of his arrest in December, Learning said that he and the two elders went onto the site to defy the injunction.
“The injunction was just too sweeping. I can’t even come home here and if I stop the truck or even step out of the truck, I am contravening the injunction,” Learning said at the time.
“It seems like I might as well take it on now (the injunction) in order to beat the monster back or make people aware that we are not afraid of these guys, they’re just blowing in the wind,”
The next set of charges came on April 5, when Learning and several other NunatuKavut members, including NCC President Todd Russell, was arrested during a protest on a Trans Labrador Highway, which obstructed early morning traffic heading towards the Muskrat Falls site via Route 510.
Learning was one of several protestors that morning who linked arms and layed on the ground when the RCMP asked them to let traffic start moving. They were subsequently taken into custody after being moved off the ground.
After being taken into custody, Learning initially refused to sign the conditions for release and was placed into the Labrador Correctional Centre. While at the LCC, Learning continued his protest by going on a hunger strike, which lasted nearly a week, until he was released.
On July 9, Learning picked up two more charges for, once again, disobeying the court injunction and for not following the conditions of his previous release.
Even with seven charges looming over his head, Learning claims that he isn’t too worried about the future. He even sees his upcoming court appearance in January as an opportunity to show his displeasure at “the system.”
“I think it gives us a chance to kick the system around a bit and try to shake it up; make it more responsible and visionary…simply not playing to industry,” said Learning.
NCC President Todd Russell was one of several supporters who accompanied Learning into Provincial Court on the 28th. He, too, thinks the charges against the 75-year-old elder are unjustified.
“I don’t think it’s got anything to do with justice, it’s got everything to do with an injustice, perpetuated against a respected elder in our community, someone who has given his life to Labrador; who has been nothing but a law abiding honest citizen,” said Russell.
Russell believes NunatuKavut protestors have been treated unfairly by the justice system. He points out how there was no charges laid when Innu protesters completely shut down the Muskrat Falls work site last spring. Yet, when he and seven other protestors lay on the road and refused to end their protest on April 5, all of them were arrested and charged.
“Is there any greater example of bias in the system?’ asks Russell.
“I’m not saying the other group (of Innu protestors) should have been arrested, but let me tell you that there should have been fairness and there should have been equal treatment under the law.”
Learning says that he will continue on with his normal routine while awaiting his court hearing in January. First on his list to make sure he got plenty of firewood for the winter.
“I’m going to get my logs early this year because…I could be sitting in the penitentiary for awhile.”