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Ontario Hansard - Question Period

Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Ontario Hansard
April 20, 2006 No. 63 (1410-1440)

Oral Questions: Native Land Dispute

Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question is to the Premier. Canadian Press describes this Ontario scene this morning: "Police helicopters roared overhead as defiant native protesters climbed atop buildings and set tires ablaze.... The angry protesters used a large dump truck and a massive tire fire to block a road leading to a housing project...."

On any other day, no subject would be too small to fill in a few minutes in the ministerial statement period, but on this one we hear nothing from you or any of your ministers. Can you give us an update on the Caledonia situation?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): I know the leader of the official opposition raises an important issue and I'm sure many Ontarians will be made aware of this either during the course of the day or through the evening news. Let me at the outset provide some information with respect to the genesis of the police action itself.

There are three points I want to make in this regard. First of all, it comes after discussions to settle this matter had taken place over a five-week period. Secondly, it comes after an order sought by a private party was issued by the courts requiring the OPP to take action. Finally, and I want to be perfectly clear in this regard, this police action comes completely independent of me, my office or my government.

We were notified of the police action this morning while it was in progress, or immediately after it. That was the first indication we had that the police had in fact gone in.

Mr. Tory: That, of course, is as it should be. I would like to go back, though, a bit in time and refer you, Premier, to a newspaper article that was in the Tekawennake -- the Teky -- newspaper, in which they have recently reported that Chief Dave General of the Six Nations wrote letters to your minister responsible for aboriginal affairs and your Minister of Public Infrastructure when he first became aware of the potential confrontation in 2005. According to this article, your government has known about this conflict and the potential it represented for an explosive situation for roughly a year now, but it appears that nothing has been done until very recently. Yesterday you promised, as you should, that your government would make every effort to find a peaceful resolution to this. Now, when we have reports of massive tire fires, pepper spray, taser gun use, helicopters and fighting, can you tell us, after a year of inaction by your government, what your government's plans are to carry on with those talks that you say have been going on for some time and to achieve the peaceful resolution that you said yesterday you were committed to achieving?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: I'm pleased to speak to this issue and to report that there's another meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock involving all the parties. It has been our position throughout that we should continue to talk.

What the leader of the official opposition should understand is that the individuals involved are treating the province of Ontario and our government at best as secondary players in this matter. They insist on being dealt with as a nation. They want to deal with the government of Canada on a nation-to-nation basis. In fact, there was a statement made by Janie Jamieson, the spokesman for the protesters, on Newsworld today where she said, "As far as the province goes, we are a sovereign nation. We always have been. We've already established that. That's why we have a seat at the United Nations. Canada knows that. They're trying to diminish our sovereignty by making us speak with the province, and it's something we will not do."

We will continue to participate in discussions, though.

Mr. Tory: I would hope that the Premier's last comments quoting Ms. Jamieson don't indicate that you're going to, in any way, abdicate or withdraw from a process where you quite properly should have a role in trying to continue to achieve a peaceful resolution.

I wonder, though, because I referred you to the article that came out in 2005 and to the letters written to your ministers in 2005, whether you might comment on the fact that your government and your ministers have known about the situation for a year. The occupation itself began 51 days ago and the talks have gone on, as you said, for five weeks, but a year ago your ministers knew about this and have done clearly nothing to prevent this from happening. Now we find ourselves in a situation where you have someone saying they won't deal with you, where you have tasers and fighting and tire fires and pepper spraying and so forth. Why did your government have this material for a year and do nothing about it? What kind of leadership is that?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: I know that the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs can speak to this.

Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): I say respectfully to the Leader of the Opposition that you are misinformed. We have had a process in place involving both the provincial government and the federal government called the exploration. This involved Chief David General, the duly elected council and all parties, negotiating and discussing the land claim issue and the accounting claim that came from that. What precipitated this protest is that one faction in that community was impatient with the progress of that process, but there has been a process involved, and Chief General -- somebody I talk to on a regular basis -- will tell you that he has been very pleased with the progress of those discussions.

Mr. Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay): My question is to the Premier and it's in regard to the situation in Caledonia. Yesterday in this Legislature, you said you supported, and I quote, "a peaceful resolution." You said, "We are determined to resolve this, but we will do this in a way that results in no incident and in no compromise to public safety." Here we are, less than 24 hours later, at 5 o'clock this morning, the OPP moved to evict the protestors off that particular line.

My question is a very simple one, Premier: Can you explain the contradiction between your government's stated position in this House yesterday and what happened in Caledonia at 5 o'clock this morning?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): There is no contradiction here whatsoever. This may be a new notion to the member putting the question, but we believe in the independence of the Ontario Provincial Police. We will not direct them. They made a decision on their own, of their own accord, to act on a court order issued earlier by an Ontario court. We fully support them in that regard, but that was an action they took completely independent of us.

Mr. Bisson: Premier, do you condone the actions of the OPP this morning, what happened at 5 o'clock?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: Just so the member opposite has a better understanding of the OPP in this regard, they issued a release on April 3, and in part, it reads as follows:

"The OPP's goal is to achieve a safe and lasting resolution to this situation by exploring all peaceful options. Those options are still being pursued.

"The OPP respects the direction of the court and as a last resort will execute the court-ordered warrants of arrest to remove the occupiers in the safest means possible."

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Ontario Provincial Police for their patience, their perseverance and their dedication to resolve this matter in the safest way possible.

Mr. Bisson: The inference is that you switched your position from yesterday, because what I heard in this House yesterday was the Premier's answer -- and we applauded as New Democrats -- to a question that you believed in negotiations and making sure that we found a peaceful settlement. We know that for years, the federal government -- and you can't throw this all into their court -- has basically absolved itself of its responsibility in some cases of being able to resolve issues.

I remind you of Kashechewan last fall. After Charlie Angus and I and the chiefs came to this Legislature, you took the correct action. You said you were not going to allow to happen what was happening in that First Nations community, you took action, and as a result of that, the federal government moved. Why is it, in this case, yesterday, you said that you were taking a position of leadership, and today you stand behind the OPP and say, "What happens, happens"?

Hon. Mr. McGuinty: First of all, to restate something I said a moment ago, discussions will continue at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning involving all the parties, and we're pleased to pursue that particular avenue.

But the member should really understand what he's saying. What he's saying is that we should have directed the Ontario Provincial Police. That's what he's saying. He's saying that we should have learned ahead of time of their plans to pursue a police action and that we should have told them that they are not allowed to do that. That's what he's telling us. We disagree with that approach. We believe in the independence of the Ontario Provincial Police, and once they have acted, we support them in their action.

Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question again is for the Premier. We were informed yesterday -- in fact, in the days earlier this week -- that quite a lot of police resources had been allocated and reassigned to be at the ready in case something needed to take place in Caledonia. I wanted to ask you two questions in that regard. The first would be, since we knew this information, and I think others did as well, when was the first time anybody in your government knew about this operation that took place early this morning? Secondly, could you comment on the impact that this reallocation of police resources will have for some of the rural and small-town parts of the province? Because people who are reallocated to this situation are not available --


Mr. Tory: I know the members of the government think it's a very funny matter, but there are towns in rural parts of this province --

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Order, Minister of Health, Minister of Agriculture. I need to be able to hear the Leader of the Opposition place his question.

The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Tory: My question is, can you comment on whether or not this will have a long-standing or an anticipated long-lasting impact on the ability to police properly in other parts of the province, since substantial resources have been reallocated to deal with this situation? That's all I'm asking for. I don't know why the members of the government are so insensitive to the needs of rural Ontario.

Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): To the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Hon. Monte Kwinter (Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services): The Leader of the Opposition asks a couple questions, and I'm not exactly sure which one he wants me to answer, but I'll try the first one and maybe in the supplementary I'll get to the second one. His first question was, when did we find out that this was happening? I should tell you that ever since this incident arose and the occupation took place 51 days ago, I have been kept apprised of the situation, to let me know that there is a risk. Other members of the government -- the Minister of Natural Resources -- and federal and provincial members have been meeting to try to resolve this situation.

In all cases, you know, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. It would be irresponsible for the OPP not to be able to make sure that, if there is a problem, they are able to respond. The question is, does that mean they've drawn off other areas? Obviously, the forces that were in Caledonia were not adequate, but they are also very cognizant of their responsibility to everybody in Ontario. They have the ability to do that, and I have all the confidence in the world that --

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you, Minister. Supplementary?

Mr. Tory: The fact is, he asked me which one I wanted an answer to and I got an answer to neither of the questions, but never mind. Let's go back over it; I'll just review the two questions you were asked. The first one was: You said you were in constant touch. When did you know they were going to move on the operation they moved on at 5:30 this morning? And can you simply assure us? I think it's a fair question. I think people in this province -- there's a major roadway that is closed. There are acts of civil disobedience taking place: pepper-spraying, tire fires, people fighting and so forth. I think we have a right to know, from the Premier of this province and from his ministers, what is going on here, going forward with respect to efforts to resolve it, and whether people can be confident that policing resources are available in all the different communities to make sure the province is well looked after as a whole -- simple questions.

Hon. Mr. Kwinter: I answered the last question he just posed in my first response. I told you that I have confidence that the OPP -- I'm satisfied that they have resources to make sure there is no impact on the rest of the province. That is part of their operations. Secondly, when did I know about it? I found out about it after the OPP had moved in to remove the protesters. That was at about 6 o'clock this morning. That was a call to me to tell me it had happened. I had no pre-knowledge that it was going to happen. It happened. It's a police operation. I have no responsibility or ability to interfere with police operations. It's an operational issue for the OPP, and they have a responsibility to the people of Ontario that is independent of this political discussion that is taking place, with the meetings that are going on to discuss land claims and everything else. They have a responsibility to provide public safety. They have to make that determination without any political interference, and that's what they did.

The Speaker: New question.

Mr. Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay): To the Minister of Community Safety: It was clear yesterday in this House that your government took the position that there needed to be a peaceful resolution to this situation by way of negotiations in the House. This morning we have the OPP, who have gone off -- on their own or with your knowledge; I'm not sure which -- in order to stop this particular situation by way of force. My question to you is simply this: Clearly, on the record -- and you partly answered this question -- did you have any prior knowledge, prior to this morning, of the OPP being ordered in to that situation this morning?

Hon. Mr. Kwinter: I can say unequivocally that the OPP were never ordered to do anything. The OPP make decisions based on their perception of public safety. They operate as an independent police force in a democracy. It is paramount there be no political interference with police services, and that's what they do.

Mr. Bisson: Clearly, we're now in a different world. This particular situation --


Mr. Bisson: You guys can try to make fun of this all you want, but we're clearly in a different situation today. This situation has now been escalated. People in Caledonia, people across this province and the people of Six Nations want to know, what is your government going to do concretely in order to resolve this situation by way of negotiations, and not waiting for the federal government to do whatever? You, as a provincial government, have a responsibility to act. What are you going to do to work out a resolution to this situation?

Hon. Mr. Kwinter: Our responsibility is to maintain the peace. I can tell you this: There's a meeting taking place tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock. There have been many meetings with many individuals who are impacted by this particular situation, and I am satisfied that it's a two-pronged situation. We have to make sure that we keep the peace when we do public safety. That's the role of the police. The other issue is one of the federal government. The provincial government certainly has a role, the Six Nations have a role, and the others have a role to resolve the differences. We also have a private individual who has rights as well. He's got a court order by a provincial Superior Court that says he has the right to build his houses there, and he's been granted an injunction that the protesters have to be removed. The police have an obligation to protect the rights of citizens who have legal rights as well.

We have to make sure that we have a balance, but our main focus is to come to a peaceful resolution to this incident.

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