Ontario residents living with aboriginal occupation to take protest to legislature

Chinta Puxley, Canadian Press
Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

TORONTO (CP) - Ontario residents living with a year-long aboriginal occupation said their plight is being ignored by the province after a government minister refused Tuesday to meet with a group planning a slow convoy to the legislature Wednesday.

The government has previously encouraged frustrated residents of the southern Ontario town of Caledonia to bring their protest to the legislature rather than rally at the occupation site.

On Tuesday, the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs said he has no plans to meet with the group because a meeting wasn't formally requested.

David Ramsay said he doesn't have time to meet with residents Wednesday, but added he would be willing to meet them down the road if they make an appointment.

"We know what's happening on the ground," Ramsay said.

"We know how people's lives are being disrupted. We have great sympathy for that. We're working very hard at the (negotiation) table to resolve this so we can get life back to normal."

Some residents say they don't know how the governing Liberals can have any understanding of what life has been like in the small town, just south of Hamilton, for the last 15 months.

Dan Roberts, who helped organize Wednesday's convoy and rally, said few politicians - with the exception of Conservative Leader John Tory - have bothered to visit the town that had, at one point, been cut in half by barricades and seen violent clashes between residents and Six Nations protesters.

After being invited to raise their concerns on the front lawn of the legislature, Roberts said the government's refusal to meet with residents just shows their lack of interest in getting the dispute resolved quickly.

"We get the feeling that they're just not interested in discussing it and would like to bury it," said Roberts, who lives about 30 metres away from the occupied former housing development site.

"With an election coming up, they don't want the Caledonia albatross hanging around their neck."

Residents are feeling alienated and frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations, Roberts said. Many are starting to understand the frustration that caused Six Nations protesters to occupy the land in the first place, he said.

"They've been dealing with this for 222 years, trying to get the provincial and federal governments to deal with their issues," Roberts said. "We've been trying for 15 months and we're extremely frustrated at this point."

A group of at least 100 people, including Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer, are planning to leave Caledonia on Wednesday morning and drive below the speed limit for the 100-kilometre journey to the provincial legislature.

The group will then hold a rally on the front lawn, calling on the government to speed up negotiations until the dispute is resolved.

Conservative Leader John Tory said the Liberals' refusal to meet with frustrated residents is "true to form." The Liberals haven't shown any interest in hearing from residents about their ordeal, nor have they bothered to visit the troubled town, he said.

If any cabinet minister bothered to meet with residents and hear what their lives have become, Tory said they would have difficulty supporting the current policy of "doing nothing."

"I think it's disgraceful," said Tory, adding the Liberals are burying their heads in the sand and hoping the dispute will just go away.

"The fact is, this is a serious situation. It's still a dangerous situation and (Premier Dalton McGuinty) has just done nothing about it and let it go on. That's just not leadership."

New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton said the government is trying to "keep a lid on" the issue until after the Oct. 10 election. That stonewalling is fuelling frustration and rallies like this one, he said.

Although the NDP aren't meeting with the residents because "we haven't been asked to," Hampton said the Liberals have to be "more proactive on this issue."

Six Nations protesters have occupied a former housing development site in Caledonia since February 2006, saying the land was stolen from them more than 200 years ago.

Aboriginal representatives are negotiating with the provincial and federal government, but all sides meet only once every two weeks.