. Facing the fine
Yellowknives Dene ordered to pay $60,000

Darrel Beaulieu looks out onto Back Bay last year at the beginning of his trial

Yellowknife ( May 19/00) - A judge had fines and harsh words for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, its development corporation and a former chief for their actions in the dumping of gravel and other material into Back Bay two years ago.

In a sentencing hearing Tuesday, territorial court Judge Michel Bourassa fined the Yellowknives band $60,000 and Deton' Cho Corp. president and former band chief Darrel Beaulieu $3,000. The corporation was fined just $1.

The hefty cash penalties were accompanied by criticism from Bourassa about the defence arguments.

"It was clear in my mind that the defendants saw that there was no offence," he said. "There was a lot of finger-pointing about the conduct of others."

During the trial, defence witnesses said Back Bay was already damaged as a result of mining operations carried out by Giant Mine.

In his reasons for judgment, Bourassa rejected defence evidence suggesting that because others were contributing to the degradation of the water, the charges against the three parties were somehow inappropriate.

The judge also warned the band that its arguments have strained the perceived "bond" native groups have with the environment.

"It also affords them a lot of credit -- the belief that there is a special bond with the land, and I caution the defence that this type of conduct is inconsistent with any type of special bond with the land or trust," he said. "The credit is not something the defence should be eager to lose."

Bourassa noted that while it is unusual to prosecute an individual in cases like this, it's becoming more common.

"I think there are appropriate charges against the individual (Beaulieu) here -- he is ultimately responsible," he said. The sentences follow the Jan. 27 conviction of all three parties on Fisheries Act charges of unlawfully depositing soil and debris into Back Bay, altering the fish habitat.

The charges date back to between May 1997 and November 1998 when the Deton' Cho Corporation -- an organization formed to train and employ members of the band -- excavated gravel from a housing project on the northern half of Latham Island. Under the supervision and direction of Beaulieu, the corporation's president and then chief of the Yellowknives Dene, the gravel and other supplies, including drums of oil, were stored on the shoreline near where work was done.

"Why haul it away and (then pay) and bring it back?" Beaulieu testified during the trial.

A sub-contractor pushed the debris into the bay when the area was flattened by a bulldozer.

During Tuesday's sentencing, John Clark testified about two reports prepared by his firm, Vista Engineering, on the environmental impact of the action.

An initial report said the area affected was larger and the costs to remedy some of the ecological disruption were higher than what was reported in an updated report he used in his sentencing testimony.

Mathematical as well as typographical errors in it led Bourassa to disregard the report entirely. The Crown also argued the report was biased due to Vista's business association with the Deton' Cho Corporation.