Builder calls natives' fees 'Mafia shakedown'

Paul Legall
The Hamilton Spectator
HALDIMAND (Sep 14, 2007)

Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer says it would be "outrageous" to allow the Six Nations Confederacy to collect fees for development projects along the disputed Grand River tract.

She has joined a group of mayors trying to block the move, which a Brantford area builder has compared to a "Mafia" shakedown.

"I think the government has to take a stand on the rights of home builders because everybody's rights are being infringed upon," Trainer said yesterday.

The municipal politicians along the Grand River have formed a committee and will be asking members of the Six Nations Confederacy and elected band council to discuss the issue.

Traditional chiefs at Six Nations are saying anyone planning to build in the Grand River watershed now needs their approval. Developers in the area have been told they must secure a permit, issued for a fee by a new planning department established under aboriginal law.

"We are saying specifically that you need to apply and be given a permit," said Aaron Detlor, a spokesman for the new planning agency.

"If you do not have a permit and you proceed, it's our position that you are doing so in an unlawful fashion."

Brantford developer Mike Quattrociocchi of Mayberry Homes said the Six Nations Confederacy asked him to pay a 4 per cent or $48,000 fee for his $1.2 million building project on Grand Avenue in Brantford.

He has refused to pay and compares the demand to a Mafia "extortion."

"I'm Italian. I can say those politically incorrect things," he told The Spectator yesterday.

It's not clear how Six Nations intends to enforce development permits not required by Ontario law.

Quattrociocchi said the persons requesting the payment didn't say what would happen if he didn't pay. But he feels pressured and hasn't done any work on his project since about two weeks ago when a group of natives briefly occupied the site. He has since removed his equipment from the property.

"There was no 'or else (threat).' It's very vague. The development fee is subjective and decided on a case-by-case basis. It's all done under a veil of confidentiality," he said.

Six Nations' Detlor says he thinks enforcement won't be required.

"We believe that good-faith negotiations with the development community, as well as with municipalities, will mean that we don't have to take the next step of considering enforcement."

Quattrociocchi said he discussed his project during a meeting at the Great House on the reserve with the newly-formed Six Nations land committee. The committee wants to control development 10 kilometres on each side of the Grand River from the mouth to the source -- a distance of about 290 kilometres. This would cover the land the British Crown granted to the Six Nations in 1784 in recognition for their support during the American Revolution. Much of that land was later sold by Joseph Brant and others, but Six Nations residents dispute the validity of many of those deals.

Quattrociocchi said he believes the provincial government has to intercede on behalf of the developers.

Brian Johnston, president of the Ontario Home Builders' Association, said the situation along the Grand River is a "glimpse of the future" and should serve as a warning to the province.

"The time for dithering is coming to an end," he said. "The province is being disingenuous in throwing it back into the lap of the federal government. The province is responsible for land titles. They can't walk away from the situation."

He suggested the Six Nations Confederacy may be using the new development fee as a tactic to speed up the current land claims negotiations.

Darlene Fraser, president of the Brantford Home Builders' Association, said she doesn't know of any developers actually paying the fee.

"I cannot believe that anyone would pay any fees that are not sanctioned by government," she said. "Unless it's been approved by the government, it's not legal."

Lars Eddy, spokesperson for the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, said the province encourages Six Nations to settle its grievances at the negotiating table and not on the "backs of individual developers."

Detlor said there are no plans to send native protesters to stop a development that hasn't been approved by the Confederacy.