Grounding bad parents

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

July 15, 2009

The arrests of four individuals last week at a smoke shack that's been established on private property in Caledonia were small, yet bold steps for the OPP and for that matter, Haldimand County.

Such law enforcement isn't going to be an immediate cure for what ails us, but for now it puts a little doubt in the mind of native protesters who think that they can do whatever they please, with no repercussions.

From now on maybe protesters will think twice before they decide to set up a smoke shack on someone's property without permission. So will those who operate them and those who are affiliated with them now that a minor has been arrested for trespassing.

The question now is: Can the county go one giant step further and go after the province to uphold its own laws and respect Haldimand's?

There are other contraband operations, including one at the south end of Argyle Street and another off the Caledonia bypass that are doing business on provincial land. Another is situated on land belonging to Six Nations Band Council.

Not only do these enterprises fly in the face of both federal and provincial legislation and regulations pertaining to the sale of tobacco, they are also in contravention of county bylaws.

Bylaws have been flouted for the past three-and-a-half years on the Douglas Creek Estates property and the county has done little to hold the province - the property owner - accountable. Occupiers have been noisy. They've built cabins, burned garbage and trespassed on nearby properties belonging to private landowners.

One local councillor recently told our paper that the province could not be held accountable for municipal bylaw infractions. In his words: "The province is like our parents, and you can't ground your parents."

But not according to a 2006 court of Appeals decision pertaining to Douglas Creek Estates that said Ontario had the right to permit peaceful occupation of its property. "As a property owner it has the right to use its own land as it sees fit, as long as it complies with municipal by-laws and the laws concerning nuisance and public safety," the decision reads.

Therefore, one can only assume that the province is required to comply with county bylaws, even though it is a bad parent and doesn't follow its own rules.

In the past, county council has rested on its laurels, saying that it can't solve land claims and can't enforce laws. However, in the case of smoke shacks it should have the ability to hold the province accountable, or at least try.

The main point here shouldn't be whether Haldimand can hold the province accountable, but what liability could entail if it doesn't try, knowing what it does.

A recent vehicular accident outside one shack involved two children. Luckily they were okay.

One could argue that a lack of action taken during the past two years has only fortified what Haldimand and some private property owners have dealt with more recently.

These problems, similar to land protests at local construction sites, have to be nipped in the bud. As we've all seen in the past, court orders and injunctions seem to work more often than not.