June 12, 2007

Six Nations Should End Protest and Pay Costs

Reduce Government Offer $30 to $46 million

The federal government has made an offer of $125 million to Ontario's Six Nations to resolve four outstanding land claims. This offer sends a message to natives everywhere in Canada that the rule of law will not be enforced and that occupations will end with a cash offer. With June 29th looming, when native communities have planned a national day of protest, governments should make it clear that they will not negotiate with occupiers. A starting point would be to present the Six Nations a bill for the costs incurred during the Caledonia standoff.

Six Nations protesters have been occupying the disputed Douglas Creek Estates land development project since February 2006. Police tried and failed once to remove the protesters. Since then, no further effort has been made to remove occupiers and taxpayers have been left on the hook for tens of millions in related costs. Governments need to send a strong and clear message that they are serious about settling outstanding land claims. But they must also make clear that they will not negotiate with occupiers, that the rule of law will be enforced and that costs will be taken out of settlements. If they don't, the national day of protest may become a national day of fear.

The federal government is offering $125 million for the land claims but fails to address the $30 to $46 million in costs incurred by local, provincial and federal governments due to the illegal occupation. All levels of government should work together to present the Six Nations with an accounting of standoff-related costs incurred to governments during the Caledonia protest and occupation and a final agreement with government should be reduced by that amount. Now that they have an offer from the government protesters should leave the land.

The provincial and federal government have paid tens of millions of dollars for unusual costs as a result of the standoff. Beyond the land purchase of $16 million, governments are widely reported to have paid over $30 million in other costs including: policing for fifteen months, repairs to damaged public infrastructure, legal fees, compensation for local residents and businesses, and unusual negotiation costs. As well, the government will likely suffer a capital loss for the land.

The issue of recovering costs would not have come up if governments and police would have enforced the rule of law in the first place. For 18 months occupiers have been allowed to disrupt the daily goings-on in Caledonia. Business has been hurt, property has decreased in value, tensions have heightened between the native and non-native communities and life just does not proceed as usual. All of this because two laws are enforced - one law for natives and one law for non-natives. In Toronto on June 3rd a group of women anti-poverty activists held their own protest and occupied an abandoned building. Toronto police had them removed and four were arrested in a matter of a few hours. This double standard should not be allowed.

Civil disobedience is one thing, but it comes with consequences. And those consequence should be enforced. The Six Nations should be no exception. In the future, occupations should be treated the same everywhere and the rule of law enforced equally.