Caledonia residents say they are being ignored

CHINTA PUXLEY
Canadian Press- Posted Globe & Mail
May 2, 2007

Ontario residents living with a year-long aboriginal occupation said their plight is being ignored by the province after a government minister refused yesterday to meet with a group planning a slow convoy to the legislature today .

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.

Yesterday, 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 today, but added he would be willing to meet them down the road if they make an appointment.

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"We know what's happening on the ground," Mr. 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 past 15 months.

Dan Roberts, who helped organize today'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, Mr. 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 Mr. 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, Mr. 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," Mr. 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 this 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.