Class Action: Some are heroes, some are not

by Gary McHale - The Regional News This Week

July 13, 2011

I am sure over the next few months there will be plenty of people stepping forward and whining about the Class Action Settlement. Of course, most of these will be the people who refused to step forward anytime in the last 5 years and fight for their community but now that they can get a cheque they will want far more money than they will be getting.

The residents of Ipperwash were very united against the government with over 1200 members joining their group called ONFIRE. Several times they attempted to certify a Class Action lawsuit against the government and failed every time. ONFIRE did take the Native Land Claim all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and won - the court ruled against the Natives. This ruling didn't stop the violence or cause the OPP to enforce the law.

In Caledonia, the business community refused to unite against the government and in fact many businesses were more than willing to support the McGuinty government.

In the summer of 2006, when the Class Action was being filed, Ken Hewitt, as spokesperson for the Caledonia Citizens Alliance, led the public attack against the Class Action. Ken Hewitt told reporters, "the lawsuit is not supported by the CCA" and then made a few statements against Class Action Lawyer John Findlay.

This Class Action lawsuit represents the first in the history of Canada whereby people who were victimized by land claim violence stood against the government for allowing the violence to occur. People watch too much American TV and believe the settlement was going to be in the hundreds of millions. In Canada, such settlements just don't happen.

John Findlay is one of the few lawyers in Canada who has any real experience in Class Action law. He lives with his family on Caithness St. in Caledonia. Both John and his wife are lawyers and operate a joint law firm. They are committed Catholics. In many ways, they set aside their legal practice in order to fight for the businesses and residents in Caledonia. They fought for their community for 5 years without receiving any money and risked losing everything.

Mr. Findlay has represented several people in Caledonia and when the OPP sued me for $7.1 million dollars he was right there taking on my case even though I couldn't pay him a dime. The OPPA has paid over $200,000 to sue me for my public statements that OPP officers were not upholding their oath of office. If it wasn't for Mr. Findlay, I and many others would have been silenced by the government long ago.

For the record, I and my group will receive zero dollars from this settlement and that includes Merlyn Kinrade who has fought hard to help his neighbours. Being an activist is not a money maker and you don't get weekly paycheques unless you are a Native activist being paid to be part of the ongoing negotiations.

It was only the Dairy Queen and St. George Arms (for the Business Class) that had the courage to help start the Class Action. Pat Woolley stood up for the Contractors Class, Margaret Cook stood up for the Highway #6 businesses and only 7 homeowners stood up for the Property Class.

These people risked their own personal safety by being named on the court paperwork and risked losing big money if the Government won. To offset this risk the Class Action appealed to all the residents and businesses in Caledonia for support. While they wanted $150,000 to be donated in support of the lawsuit the community only backed these brave people with a mere $15,000.

No doubt this is one of the reasons the case was settled out of court. These people faced the possibility of paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to the Government while the rest of the Caledonia community risked nothing. These people's decision to settle provides some money for hundreds of residents and hundreds more businesses.

Some will say this is hush money but there is nothing in this settlement stopping anyone in Caledonia from speaking out to the media or joining any of our rallies.

The problem many people have is they believed one letter to the government, one rally, one lawsuit etc. would suddenly restore law and order. The battle against injustice is a long hard fought battle. It is even harder when Haldimand Council, local businesses and many residents refused to do more than whine about the problem and point fingers at anyone trying to help.

Just three weeks ago a letter published in the Regional claimed the person couldn't find anyone who remembered any harm they experienced. I am sure the 410 homes and the 300 businesses covered by the lawsuit will suddenly come to life with stories of how they were affected by the violence.

The Class Action lawsuit is a huge victory but remains just one part of the victory. It is only hush money if you remain silent. If people are upset by the settlement then they have an option - join us as we continue to hold the government accountable.

Fight for something more than just money. Fight for the restoration of law and order, for the equality of all people and for the day when the OPP, the Ontario Government and Six Nations publicly are forced to issue an apology.

McGuinty's intention may be to bribe residents and businesses but it doesn't stop you from joining us and forcing lasting change within our justice system.