Province to consider bringing in mediator to settle Caledonia occupation

Chinta Puxley, Canadian Press
Published: Wednesday, May 02, 2007

TORONTO (CP) - The Ontario government will look at bringing in a mediator to help end a 15-month aboriginal occupation after meeting with a group of frustrated non-aboriginal residents living with the dispute who spearheaded a slow convoy to the legislature Wednesday.

David Ramsay, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, said he will consider doing whatever he can to speed up the negotiations aimed at ending the occupation of a former housing development in the southern Ontario town of Caledonia.

The government will propose bringing a mediator to the talks and will consider whether further compensation is needed for town residents and businesses, Ramsay said. But he said the province can't set a deadline for the occupation to end.

"That's what makes it so difficult," Ramsay said after meeting with a group of four residents and the mayor of Haldimand County on Wednesday.

"One cannot predict the outcome of this type of very complex negotiation."

It wasn't the firm commitment many residents were hoping to get following their 100-kilometre slow convoy to Toronto and subsequent rally on the legislature's front lawn.

Some residents talked about having the provincial police force replaced by Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Others said they wanted more compensation from the province for businesses who are still losing money.

Most just wanted federal and provincial negotiators to meet around the clock until the dispute is resolved.

"We got what you would expect from government - promises," said Dan Roberts, a Caledonia resident who lives near the occupation site.

"Now we just wait for action."

In the meantime, the group is already planning a similar trip to Ottawa so they can deliver the same message of frustration.

"Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper, don't think for a second that we don't have you ... within our line of sight," Roberts said. "We hear Ottawa is a beautiful city and we may be coming to visit you shortly."

Premier Dalton McGuinty said that's where residents might be able to make some headway. The province is caught in the middle and Ottawa holds the power in this dispute, he said.

"There is only one level of government that has the authority to bring about a resolution as quickly as possible (in) this matter... and that's the federal government," McGuinty said.

"We'll do our role as best we can as peacekeepers on the ground but at the end of the day, resolution of this matter will only come about when the federal government decides they want to bring it to an end."

In Ottawa, Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice wouldn't take questions from reporters and would only say that negotiations were ongoing.

"Our negotiators are there. They are able people who are doing an exceptional job," Prentice said in response to a question in the House of Commons.

"The (Ontario Provincial Police) will continue to be responsible for policing in Ontario. We will continue to work at the table with the First Nation in a respectful way toward a resolution."

But patience in Caledonia is running out.

Residents say they are exhausted by the ongoing occupation and the tension it continues to cause in their community.

Carrying signs that said "McGuinty Grow A Spine," residents who rallied Wednesday placed much of the blame for the ongoing occupation squarely at the doorstep of the province, who bought the disputed land last year.

"It's happened for 15 months but it's got to come to an end," said Gayle Hagan, a 40-year resident of Caledonia. "It's just too hard on people. It's split our community up, it's split families up. It's a terrible thing."

Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer said both levels of government need to be reminded that Caledonia is "still hurting."

People can't enjoy their backyards since many back on to the occupied land, she said. Businesses are still suffering as well with some losing up to $50,000 a month, Trainer said.

"They need some help," she said. "The people of Caledonia need normalcy back in their lives."

Six Nations protesters have been occupying the site for more than a year, claiming the land was stolen from them over 200 years ago. Aboriginal representatives are meeting with federal and provincial negotiators once every two weeks to resolve the dispute.