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Gas bar operators get ruling to reopen; Roseau to appeal

'This ain't over, boys,' councillor warns

David Doer (left) and Larry Penner went to court to have their eviction from the gas bar overturned.

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David Doer (left) and Larry Penner went to court to have their eviction from the gas bar overturned. (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES )

Red Sun Smoke Shop and Gas Bar eviction scene.

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Red Sun Smoke Shop and Gas Bar eviction scene. (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS )

A First Nation gas bar at the centre of a contentious legal battle got the green light to reopen Thursday under the same management evicted in a showdown last week.

A Court of Queen's Bench justice ordered Roseau River First Nation to allow management back in so they can open their doors again.

The First Nation leadership evicted the investors who run the Red Sun Gas Bar and Smoke Shop on Highway 6 near the Perimeter Highway on April 30, only to find themselves in court this week when the investors sought an injunction against the eviction.

Justice Sadie Bond had barely made her ruling when a lawyer for the First Nation asked the justice to stay her order.

Bond decided not to stay her ruling, so band leaders who led the eviction announced their intention to launch an appeal to overturn it. That paperwork is expected to be filed with the Court of Appeal within days.

David Doer, who sought the injunction with his business partner, Kathy Nelson, must wait until this morning for the court paperwork from the ruling before they can move forward. He said he expected to make a public comment today.

Larry Penner, whose company, Penner Oil, supplies the gasoline and owns the pumps and tanks at the gas bar, was absent, but his lawyer announced in court Thursday his client intended to dig his tanks out of the ground and remove his pumps if the injunction wasn't granted.

Doer and Penner say the have sunk $3 million into building the business and their lawyers argued they've operated under a 20-year lease since they opened nearly seven years ago.

Earlier Thursday, as a gallery of Roseau River members made a visible show of support for their chief in court, Doer said it would take at least two days to put the store back in order after last week's showdown.

"We did an inventory when the court allowed us back in the store and the stock had been taken off the shelves and piled on the floor," Doer said.

Roseau River Chief Ken Henry reacted to the justice's ruling with an angry outburst.

Band councillor Cecil James levelled an angry glare in Doer's direction and warned him and his son, David Doer Jr., "This ain't over, boys."

By the time the justice made her final decision, tempers had cooled.

"I did blow up, but that was the first time," the chief said. "Obviously this was disappointing. We felt the judge erred in her decision and that will be appealed."

The chief said the First Nation will honour the injunction.

"I'm obviously not above the law. They will be allowed back and hopefully we will get some co-operation," Henry said.

Last week's eviction was peaceful, with at least four RCMP cruisers on the scene.

But underlying the issue is a longstanding dispute between the current chief and former chief Terry Nelson, now grand chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization.

Kathy Nelson, Nelson's daughter, runs much of the operation along with Doer, the brother of former premier Gary Doer.

Henry and his council allege most revenue from the gas bar and smoke shop are accruing to Kathy Nelson and David Doer, who do not hold a proper lease on the land. The band says revenue from the business -- millions of dollars in cigarette rebates and gas sales -- rightfully belongs to Roseau.

In her ruling, Bond reviewed two days of arguments but framed her decision on the more narrow merits of whether the management of the gas bar operated under a lease agreement.

She found they did.

"For a number of years, all the parties operated on the premise the lease is valid. In my view, we are dealing with a situation where the parties (the managers) will suffer a permanent loss... they will lose business if the (band eviction) is allowed to continue," the justice said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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