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B.C. Conservative Leader could be in court while on the hustings

B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins says he could be involved in a court case related to the aboriginal fisheries at the same time as he is campaigning this fall in the next provincial election.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, the B.C. Court of Appeal granted leave for a group of 46 commercial gillnet fishermen including Mr. Cummins to appeal a decision of a lower court related to a protest fishery in the summer of 2001.

The case could be heard possibly as soon as this fall, Mr. Cummins said Tuesday in an interview. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has indicated the next provincial election, scheduled for 2013, could be held as early as this fall.

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Mr. Cummins said he had no problem fighting a court battle at the same time as a provincial election campaign.

"We're standing up for equal treatment for Canadians before the law," he said. "I think every politician should be standing up and saying all Canadians should be treated equally before the law.

"I have a problem with politicians who don't believe that."

Mr. Cummins, who was an MP in Ottawa for 18 years, took over as leader of the provincial Conservative Party last month. The protest fishery was held to draw attention to arrangements for first nations that several commercial fishermen believed were unfair.

The fishermen were convicted of unlawfully setting fishing gear, as well as fishing and possessing salmon, at a time when federal regulators had closed the commercial fishery. Despite the closure, certain aboriginal groups were allowed to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

Mr. Cummins and the fishermen admitted the offences but challenged the charges on constitutional grounds. They told the court that federal authorities did not investigate or enforce breaches of the law by aboriginal fishermen who were selling fish that was supposed to be for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

Mr. Cummins, who has been convicted three times for fishery violations during protests, said in the interview that the protest in 2001 was directed against federal fishery officials who were aware that some aboriginal fishermen were selling fish but did not intervene. "They knew the law was being broken but [their managers] told them to look the other way. That was what we were protesting," he said.

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The Provincial Court judge ruled that they intentionally broke the law and convicted them. Mr. Cummins was fined $300. Others who had not been convicted on fishery offences previously were fined $200.

The ruling was upheld by the B.C. Supreme Court.

Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett, of the B.C. Appeal Court, ruled that the issue met the requirements for granting leave to appeal. Mr. Cummins said he was "delighted," by the appeal court ruling.

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