Uninvited smoke shack opens outside local home

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

June 17, 2009

A local homeowner claims that a smoke shack established beside his driveway came uninvited but is hoping that "good dialogue" with its proprietors will convince them to leave.

"I don't allow them on my property," he told The Regional News Monday afternoon. "It's wrong and I didn't invite them."

The smoke shack opened last week on his premises that's situated on the east side of Highway 6 South, just outside Caledonia.

Byron Powless, one of the smoke shack operators, said that the business asserts native ownership of the Plank Road lands which has belonged to his people for years. Non-native people paved it and called it Highway 6, he said.

"Our people have been stepped on for years. Where are our kids going to play? Are they going to plan in a concrete jungle?"

Powless is operating the smoke shack with two of his brothers and his father Boots and said they arent' looking for any trouble.

"We're good people," he said.

Known as Ernie to many local townspeople, the senior homeowner wishes to keep a low profile. He would not tell the newspaper how old he is or if anyone was living with him inside his home.

Adjacent to his porch, on top of his garage, a Canadian flag blew in the wind.

He has spoken to members of the Ontario Provincial Police, but "For what?" he wonders. "What is the police going to do?"

Because the smoke shack does not conform to municipal zoning and building permit bylaws, the county has sent a letter to the registered property owner, informing him of the associated liability.

Haldimand's CAO Don Boyle said that the county had correspondence with the OPP and that bylaw enforcement could be a possible next step. However the county is waiting for the landlord to reply later this week, he noted.

Appearing in front of council at a committee meeting on Monday, Haldimand OPP Inspector, Dave McLean acknowledged that the situation is different than those involving smoke shacks on the west side of Highway 6, on parcels in trust to Six Nations.

Police spoke with the property owner who wants people to let him deal with the issue himself, McLean said. There were no reports of threats, extortion or intimidation, he added.

Mayor Marie Trainer also spoke with the property owner and understood that he certainly didn't invite anyone on his property, but didn't want any confrontation.

Coun. Buck Sloat pointed out that there are different processes on dealing with the matter depending on whether the homeowner is in favour of the smoke shack, or not.

"This occupation of private farmland is without precedent," according to MPP Toby Barrett in a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"There is a clear perception in the community that this is criminal behaviour - organized criminal behaviour and extortion, blatantly intimidating the owner of the land - and that the OPP have not prevented this from occurring.

"We have government for a reason. We have law for a reason, It is unacceptable and dangerous for government to abdicate responsibility and put this situation in the hands of private citizens."

Barrett's letter was also sent to Prime Minister Harper, Haldimand-Norfolk MP Diane Finley, Haldimand Mayor Trainer and council, and other key stakeholders.

Meanwhile, a local resident has taken it upon himself to form what's being dubbed the "Caledonia Militia."

"Section 38 - 42 of the Criminal Code outlines the rights of all citizens to lawfully protect their property against trespassers and against those who would steal private property," Doug Fleming stated in a letter. "Parliament has seen fit to allow citizens the right to use reasonable force to remove trespassers from private property...

"Any member of the public who wishes to join the Caledonia Militia to aid in the enforcement of the Criminal Code is welcome to attend an information session at Cayuga Lions Hall, Tuesday, June 23rd at 7 p.m. Hotheads need not apply. We're opposing terrorism, not engaging in it. We will follow established procedures on the use of reasonable force to remove illegal trespassers. Trespassers will be arrested and turned over to the OPP for the prosecution of their offences."

Fleming told The Regional News that the militia isn't necessarily a solution to a problem, but more of a last resort.

"We're certainly not going to go out there unless Ernie asks us to," he said.

"The OPP don't want a confrontation and neither do I... Sometimes it's unavoidable."

If the militia is authorized to enter the property, Fleming believes that police will remove the trespassers first.