Tripp sentencing brings up constitutional questions

BRANTFORD — It has been five years since Six Nations Police arrested Six Nations resident Don Tripp and convicted of being in possession of unregistered firearms and possession of a quantity of Marijuana.

Monday was the first day of hearings to determine sentencing for those convictions. Hearing the case is Justice Martha Zivolik who also handled the criminal trial.

Under new Aboriginal Court procedures, Tripp was allowed to plead his case by offering historical background to the case by bringing in expert witnesses on the subject of colonialism, treaty making and the real history of First Nations people and their struggles against genocide.

Around 20 supporters mostly dressed in traditional wear and Gustowas sat quietly in Courtroom #2 at the Darling Street Court House as witness Chief Delbert Riley took the court through 300 years of history in about an hour and a half.

Riley was one of the principles that negotiated with then Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien, to have section #35 of the Canadian Constitution Act added after Indigenous backlash over the first draft of the constitution, which did not do anything to protect treaties made between Indians and the Crown.

Chief Riley, now retired, was Grand Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood, the predecessor of the Assembly of First Nations, from 1980 to 1982. He of the Chippewas of the Thames, near St. Thomas, Ontario, where he resides today. He is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and also presided over the Union of Ontario Indians. He is a recognized historian of early government/Indigenous relations, treaties and agreements.

Chief Riley chose to hold the court provided eagle feather as opposed to swearing on the bible before taking the stand.

Tripp’s legal advisor is lawyer, Sarah Dover who led Chief Riley through a brief history of Canada’s dealings with the Crown, as well as the historical and traditional ways of dealing with criminal matters.
Dover began by asking about Mr. Riley’s personal background for the court.

“I am a survivor of the Mohawk Institute residential school,” Riley answered. “I was in the Mohawk Institute for five years. I went in at six years of age and came out when I was 11. Between 1950 and 1955.”

After his residential school experience, which even today he cannot talk about, he was “out on the street for two years,” he told the court. Eventually, Riley continued his education, finishing high school and attended University. Along the way had become politically active in his battle to protect the rights, treaties and culture of all Indigenous peoples, including the Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee.

Although retired, that does not mean by any means, that he is inactive. Riley is now writing papers and books on the subject of colonialism.

“It’s been a long sentencing process where evidence for sentencing has been placed before the court,” said Dover about the day’s proceedings. “We have been going through an evolution of issues related to this case.

Chief Riley has a wealth of knowledge about Canada’s legal history, including constitutional history, but particularly on residential schools.

“Right now we are putting in all the necessary pieces needed to tell a story,” explained Dover. “Once those pieces are put in place, then you can get up and tell the story.”

She explains that the last piece will be on community and clan approaches to justice that fits with this particular situation defense council would like the judge to consider in how indigenous law applies, practically to Don Tripp.

“Today was to have been the last day where evidence was to be submitted, but it won’t be. Based on the time today, as was the agreement of the Crown, there will be another day set aside for taking evidence,” said Dover.

Under cross-examination, Crown attorney David King asked Riley if he knew Tripp before these court proceedings.

“Yes, we met about a month ago at a protest meeting about Bill C-33, the education bill,” Riley answered. “I made some statements about section 35 and he picked up on it and he came to see me and asked if I could be of help in his particular situation.”

“Did he tell you what charges he has been found convicted of?” King asked.

“No,” Riley said. “That is not my area of expertise. Mine is primarily Aboriginal Treaty Rights.”

“Did he tell you that he had pleaded guilty to selling a firearm to someone who turned out to be an undercover police officer?” King asked.

Riley confirmed that he did know that, but added, “I am also aware that those treaty rights made this normal trade items for First Nations, to buy and sell and hunt with guns without any restrictions.”

But the details, he did not know.

“Did you know he has also been found guilty of possession of large amounts of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking?” asked King.

“He also told me he had a doctor’s permit for that,” answered Riley.

“He told you he had a doctor’s permit to traffic marijuana?” King retorted.

At that point Dover objected the way the question was being presented by King, saying, “The question suggests that he was trafficking, as opposed to what was said on the guilty plea, so I did not want to leave the witness with the impression that he has admitted to trafficking marijuana, which he has not.”

“I did not ask because I felt it was none of my business,” said Riley. “I prefer to confine myself to my area of expertise.”

“Are you indicating that Mr. Tripp shouldn’t even be here in front of the Canadian court?” asked King.

“First I think that there probably should be some sort of discussion or arrangement with the government on these kinds of matters, and essentially, he would be protected under section #35. That would be considered traditional (trade).”The next court appearance to conclude this part of the sentencing procedure is set for June 16th. Depending on scheduling. Possibly July 15, 16 or 17th, and then reconvene September 3rd.

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