Six Nations can't dictate new laws

Sept 15, 2007

Kitchener Record

The rule of Canadian law is breaking down in the Grand River valley. And Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is letting it break piece by piece in a vast region of the province more than 800,000 people call home.

Already, a man is in hospital after being knocked unconscious by aboriginal protesters who claim authority over the Caledonia development he is building on. Already, there are reasons to fear that the tensions, and perhaps the violence, that have shaken Caledonia for more than 18 months could spread throughout the Grand River valley, including Waterloo Region, where a group of Six Nations natives are asserting bold new demands that have no foundation in Ontario law.

Yet, at this critical moment when leadership at the highest level is so urgently required, Premier McGuinty is missing in action on the election campaign trail. Mr. Premier, with respect, your silence, your evasion, your insistence that this is a job for the federal government, are simply not good enough -- not for the non-natives of the area, not for the people of the Six Nations either.

Today, the Six Nations traditional government, known as the Confederacy, insists it has jurisdiction over the historic Haldimand tract -- a 384,450-hectare (950,000-acre) swath of land running 10 kilometres on each side of the Grand.

The natives do not necessarily claim ownership of all this land which they were granted in 1784 and later, for the most part, sold. But they do demand to be consulted before any new development proceeds in the area. They insist that prospective developers pay the Six Nations up to thousands of dollars for development permit approvals before any building goes forward. Furthermore, they are both clear and adamant that their demand applies to any new development in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge or Brantford that falls within 10 kilometres of the river.

Earlier this week, Waterloo regional Chairman Ken Seiling said there was no basis in provincial law for the Six Nations to be approving development. In addition, he indicated the region would not seek Six Nations permits for any of its own projects. The violence in Caledonia two days ago underscored the grave limitations and potential hazards of this view.

On Thursday, about 15 young natives occupied and shut down the Sterling South development site. The occupation was supposed to end peacefully but didn't. An encounter between a house builder, Sam Gualtieri, and the natives ended in a fight and with him being rushed to hospital with serious head injuries. The reason for the occupation, it seems, was that the developer had not obtained approval for the project from the Six Nations.

This kind of outrage should have no place in Ontario. The demand for a development fee, backed up by thugs accountable to no one but themselves, is not a reasonable request; it is blackmail and a precursor to anarchy. Is this what developers can expect in Waterloo Region? Will builders who have followed and respected all the development rules mandated by the democratically elected governments of this region and province face threats and intimidation from an unelected rabble? And if they do, to whom can they turn for help?

The provincial government of Dalton McGuinty has made it clear that while it theoretically supports Ontario's property laws and system of land deeds, it will not get directly involved in these disputes. In the eyes of the premier and the government, a developer confronted by a Six Nations occupation should call police. But the recent history of the Six Nations occupation of the Douglas Creek subdivision in Caledonia shows how feeble a public protector the Ontario Provincial Police can be in a native dispute.

For months in 2006, the police ignored a court order that the aboriginal protesters must leave the Douglas Creek subdivision. During that time, violence sporadically erupted. People were assaulted. Charges, including kidnapping and attempted murder, were laid against native protesters. In the end, Premier McGuinty's short-term solution was to buy the development with public money and allow the protesters to remain there.

The bottom line lesson couldn't be more obvious: In a dispute between natives and a non-native landowner, the police might maintain civil order and public peace. (Then again, as many Caledonia residents will attest, the police might not.) However, the police cannot be relied upon to defend the rights of landowners enshrined in Ontario law. This sets a terrible precedent. It reinforces the belief of some Six Nations members that they are not bound by Canadian or Ontario law and that they are essentially a sovereign nation administering a huge part of southern Ontario. And it is for this reason that we repeat with a sad conviction: The rule of Canadian law is breaking down in the valley of the Grand.

Premier McGuinty is correct that the federal government should be more active and assertive in resolving claims being advanced by the Six Nations. But as a politician again seeking the support and confidence of Ontario voters, McGuinty has a duty to perform, election or no election. Ontario law as it stands must be clearly understood and consistently enforced. After all, every Ontarian deserves the protection of that law.