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Tory blames McGuinty for natives' 'extortion'

April 25, 2008
Brantford Expositor

Protests by Six Nations activists are frustrating development in Brantford, all because Premier Dalton McGuinty refuses to uphold the rule of law and stop "extortion" activity, says Ontario Conservative leader John Tory.

"The government should say, 'We won't participate in (land claims) negotiations until the protests stop,' " he told reporters in a "media availability" event on a patch of grass on King George Road in the north end of the city, across from the Brantford Mall.

"By continuing to negotiate, the McGuinty government is saying 'It's OK to keep protesting,' " he said. "I would not have people sitting at the table who show disrespect for the law."

Several times Tory used the term "extortion" to describe a pattern of events surrounding talks with federal, provincial and Six Nations negotiators. Activists for the Confederacy have protested at construction sites around the city; they have also told landowners they must pay "development fees" to an organization called the Haudenosaunee Development Institute.

Allowing such "illegal" actions to go on unabated hurts developers, who have sunk a lot of money into projects, and "damages the fabric of our community," he said.

Tory also said McGuinty's weak policies have only caused the disruptive protests to expand - from the original occupation of a former housing development in Caledonia more than two years ago to Brantford, and even toward Hamilton in the past week.

Several companies are beginning to doubt their decision to invest in the area.

Tory said he hopes one company in particular, Kingspan Group PLC, will go ahead with a planned $20-million development in the northwest business park. Nearby, at Fen Ridge Court and Oak Park Road, another company's attempt to build the Hampton Inn Hotel and a plaza has been stymied by repeated native blockades.

Kingspan, an Ireland-based multinational firm, is about to start construction. If a firm of that stature decides not to proceed or is thwarted, said Tory, "incalculable" damage would be done to the development reputations of Brantford, Ontario and Canada.

Tory acknowledged the government has been following recommendations in the Ipperwash Report as to how to treat native protests more sensitively, but said it should be taking violators to court.

"The expansion is the direct result of the failure of Mr. McGuinty to use the courts," he said.

The encounter with media at the north end of the city came at the end of a stop in Brantford. Earlier, Tory talked with Mayor Mike Hancock at a time and location the mayor was asked not to disclose. And a tour of some development and protest sites in the city was led by Coun. Dan McCreary, far away from the meeting place with the media.

Stops included one at Erie Avenue and Birkett Lane, where, for three weeks, a group of native protesters led by Floyd and Ruby Montour has been keeping the city from installing water and sewer services for a 99-home subdivision to be built by Cambridge Heritage Management Corp.

Tory said at the conference he had a respectful conversation with the Montours in an effort to persuade them to abandon their protest and take their grievance to the courts - but they refused.

"Do you think we'd be here if we didn't believe this is our land?" Floyd Montour responded.

Tory said he respected their frustrations over long-unresolved grievances, but could not agree with their actions.

When informed that Tory had characterized the protests and demands concerning the HDI as "extortion," Montour said, "Funny, he didn't use that word down here.

"I can understand how they feel about us shutting down sites, but it's not our fault. It's our land and we need to protect it," he said. "It's rightfully ours."

Hancock said later he was glad to be able to speak with Tory, as he would any political party leader wanting to talk about Brantford's situation in the land claims dispute.

"I suggested that some new and innovative approaches should be considered to make the negotiations go better and lower the amount of conflict," he recounted, "because it can't go on this way."