The Quebec Superior Court has partially granted a provincial injunction to remove roadblocks set up on at least one road in the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve.
The decision was made Wednesday by judge Marie-Josée Bédard, ordering Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg to refrain from erecting any roadblock, barrier or obstacle to hinder access to Lépine-Clova road for 10 days.
Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Chief Dylan Whiteduck called the decision unfortunate.
"Many of our people have faced these struggles with the court system," he said.
"There's systemic racism and discrimination, and I know the Algonquin people are doing the right thing. I believe it in my heart that what we're doing is the right thing."
Members of several Algonquin communities have been turning away hunters at a growing number of checkpoints throughout the provincial wildlife reserve as they continue to enforce their own moratorium on moose hunting.
The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have been concerned about the decline of the moose population for several years. Unhappy with the government's response to their calls for a moratorium on sports hunting, the community took the matter into their own hands when hunting season opened on Sept. 14.
Checkpoints were set up at junctions off Route 117 by members of their community but also from Kitigan Zibi, Lac-Simon, and Kitcisakik.
Court authorizes dismantling of barriers
The Hunting and Fishing Association of the Mont-Laurier region, also known as ZEC Petawaga, filed the injunction request over Lépine-Clova road last week. There are currently three checkpoints along the road.
A ZEC (zone d'exploitation contrôlée) is a controlled harvesting zone. They have been operating in Quebec since 1978. ZEC Petawaga is not located in La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve but its lawyer Dany Chamard argued that the road gives access to 40 per cent of the territory.
While there are other entry points, Chamard said the checkpoints have forced a six-hour detour for members.
"The main access to the ZEC is by road 117," he said at the hearing on Tuesday.
Bédard excluded the other communities from her judgment, nor does it affect the other checkpoints established throughout the wildlife reserve. The court authorizes the association to dismantle and remove any road barriers, and to call upon the police to execute the injunction, if necessary.
ZEC Petawaga secretary-treasurer Jean-Marc Bélanger said he was happy with the decision.
"We filed an injunction to enforce the law and we got a response to that effect, which is what we wanted. No one can block a public road," he said in an emailed statement to CBC News.
"It was important for ZEC to have our rights recognized. ZEC Petawaga has signed a memorandum of understanding with the department of wildlife to ensure access to the territory under our management. We must therefore apply this protocol. We had to use the law to enforce this protocol, which is what we did."
Chief to contact public security minister
Whiteduck said he will be meeting with community members Thursday about the court decision, next steps, and how the band council can support them. He said he also plans on contacting Quebec's Minister of Public Security Geneviève Guilbault to address the issue peacefully.
"My biggest fear is someone getting injured or getting arrested. I do not wish upon that on anybody but we have to remember to stay united, respectful, strong and proud," said Whiteduck.
"It's important for the ministry of public security to recognize that we are always peacefully doing this and to remember that we did it because we believe in the protection of the moose."
Shady Hafez is one of the community members from Kitigan Zibi who have been spending time at the checkpoints. He echoed Whiteduck's sentiments about the decision.
"It's a really dangerous ... precedent for our communities across the country when anyone can file an injunction against a First Nation and win. The Hunting and Fishing Association of the Mont-Laurier, they're just hunters and fishers and somehow their needs overtook our jurisdiction and our rights," said Hafez.
"Given everything that is going on in Quebec right now, that's pretty shameful."
As for moose hunters in the wildlife reserve, Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks announced last week that it is reimbursing permits to hunters who can't access their designated zones due to the checkpoints.