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Ontario Hansard - Question Period

Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Ontario Hansard
April 24, 2006 No. 64A (afternoon)

Oral Questions: Native Land Dispute

Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs. As the minister knows, we were given a briefing this morning by senior public servants concerning the Caledonia situation, which we appreciate. We noted then, as I would note now, the steps forward that were achieved over the weekend, with hopefully much more to come as soon as possible.

We know that your office had correspondence a year ago bringing this matter to your attention. We learned in the briefing this morning that there had been information pickets present on this site some time ago -- last fall some time. We know that the occupation began on February 28 and that there was an interministerial committee established that day. Of course, the occupation has now been going on for more than 50 days. We were also told this morning, however, that direct negotiations involving senior officials of the government began only 10 days ago, and this was months after you got a letter, months after the first information picket on the site, which should have indicated trouble was coming and so on.

Why the delay on the part of yourself and the Premier, when an earlier start to negotiations might have led to less tension and to an earlier resolution to this very serious matter?

Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): I'd like to thank the Leader of the Opposition for attending the briefing this morning, as did the member from Parry Sound-Muskoka and the member from Timmins-James Bay. You understand, as we do, that it's a very serious matter.

I would say to the member that over the last two years, both the federal government and the Ontario government have established a process to resolve these issues with the Six Nations. We called it the exploration. We explored what we are classifying as an accounting claim, to see if the land, as it was disposed of over the years, was properly accounted for to the Six Nations community, as had been promised in the original proclamation. That has been ongoing and, in fact, has made some great progress over the last six months. What really happened was that a faction of the community lost patience with the progress of that process and acted out as we've seen from the newspapers.

Mr. Tory: To the minister again: I had the opportunity to visit the area again this morning and speak to the local officials and to local residents. It's interesting and, I would say, reassuring that the predominant sentiment among those I spoke to is the hope that the relationship that has evolved over hundreds of years between the First Nations people and the other residents in the area won't be impaired by this series of events. I think we all would share that hope.

Another theme from the people I spoke to this morning -- average people, in one place or another, who are down there -- is that they feel they don't have very much real, hard information. They see certain things in the media and so on, but they don't really know who is talking to whom and what's going on. The local government, as you know, is not really at the table. While I know you have been in touch with them, they're really dealing with second-hand information.

Aside from what I know the OPP has done, and I commend them for it -- going from door to door in the immediate area around the occupation -- could you tell us what steps you have taken -- I think they're very few in number -- and what steps you will take in order to make sure that the people who live in this area, broadly speaking, are properly informed of what is going on and can receive that information with a certain sense of reassurance and so on? What are you going to do to better inform them?

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: I do appreciate the tone of the questioning from the Leader of the Opposition. I'd like to say to the member that today, Mayor Trainer and council will be receiving a full briefing, as you did today, about the situation. I have been keeping in constant contact with her, and we feel that a full briefing before her and council will help with that.

You have also outlined some of the other steps that are being taken. Representatives of the OPP have been going around trying to assure some calm with the residents, whose lives have obviously been disrupted. Understandably, people are concerned and emotions can run high, and we are concerned about that. So they're going door to door to residences and businesses to inform them of what is going on, because we want everybody to know that everybody is working around the clock to solve this situation.

Mr. Tory: I think the minister helped make the point of my final supplementary, because the OPP, in going around from door to door, can really only address security concerns, if I can call it that, or policing concerns. As the minister knows and made reference to, there is a public meeting tonight, organized by the local residents. I think we all hope that would be an opportunity for informed discussion, communication and understanding.

In the briefing we had today, one of your senior officials indicated that he would indeed be briefing the local council this afternoon but that nobody from the Ontario government would be present at the meeting of residents tonight. I asked in particular whether that meant both public servants and elected officials, and he indicated that he could only speak to the fact that there would be no public servants there, but I'm assuming there won't be any elected officials there as well.

In light of the importance of this being a constructive, informative kind of meeting with as positive an outcome as possible, will the minister commit that an elected official, preferably a minister, will be there to represent the government of Ontario and ensure that people at that meeting are given the kind of accurate, up-to-date information that is needed to ensure a successful outcome?

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: That's why we're having the full briefing with the mayor and the council this afternoon, so that the mayor can address this local rally she is going to speak to with full information about what is going on. As the member should appreciate, we are in a very delicate balance right now, and a delicate phase of this particular negotiation, and discussion is ongoing. I think that for an elected official of the government to come to a meeting or rally on just one side now could obviously tip the balance of this discussion. Up till now, the general meetings around the large table involved all the partners in this, and I think that is the way to carry on.


Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Acting Premier. Before last Thursday's use of force by the OPP at Caledonia, were there ongoing discussions and negotiations with First Nation representatives and had those negotiations or discussions broken down before the use of force by the OPP on the morning of Thursday, April 20?

Hon. George Smitherman (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): To the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs.

Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): There have been ongoing discussions between the two levels of government, and the chief, council and confederacy of the Six Nations. Obviously, there have been discussions with the developer involved and the eight contractors supporting the developer on the development of that community there, that subdivision, besides the long-range processes that have been up and running for the last two years to deal with the land claim issues.

Mr. Hampton: The reason I ask is because this is a copy of the framework for police preparedness for aboriginal critical incidents. It talks about promoting and developing strategies that minimize the use of force. It says that where there is "colour of right" -- in other words, a potential land claim by First Nations -- the OPP are to emphasize that negotiations will be used at every opportunity and communicate that all people will be treated with respect. So if discussions and negotiations were continuing, have you asked those in charge of the OPP why they would resort to use of force, when their own document says that they should promote discussion and negotiation?

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: I'll refer this to the Minister of Community Safety.

Hon. Monte Kwinter (Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services): You should understand that this is a two-track situation. You're absolutely right: If it is a matter of negotiating treaties, land claims and things of that kind, there is a framework in place. You have to understand that there is another track, and that track was a private individual, a developer, who bought the land 15 years ago. He had title to it and a certificate from the province of Ontario guaranteeing that title, and found that someone was actually blocking him from accessing his property. He went to the Superior Court of Ontario and got an injunction. That injunction ordered the OPP to remove these people from the site. The OPP used great restraint. They waited and waited, and from an operational point of view made the determination that this was the time when they had to act. I can't second-guess that, but this was a separate issue dealing with the injunction that was authorized by a Superior Court judge in Ontario, which directed and ordered the OPP to act on it.

Mr. Hampton: With respect, the minister hasn't answered the question. Did you ask the Ontario Provincial Police why they resorted to use of force in a situation where discussion and negotiation were continuing, where their own protocol says that where there is "colour of right" by aboriginal people, where they may have a legitimate land claim, that discussion and negotiation are to be used and use of force is to be avoided? Did the OPP discount the colour of right? Have you asked them that? If you haven't, you ought to ask them that. Please tell us the answer.


Hon. Mr. Kwinter: I should say that the member was invited to a briefing today and the OPP was there. He didn't show up, but it hasn't stopped him from asking this question.

I should tell you again, and I said it in the response I gave previously, there are two tracks to this. If, in fact, this was strictly an issue where there was a land claim and a dispute on that point, you're absolutely right: That was going on and those discussions were going on. But we have this added component, and that is a developer who went to a Superior Court judge and got an injunction, and that injunction said, "You OPP are ordered to remove those people from that site." So they had that direction. It wasn't a matter of following -- if this were a simple land claim and they were suddenly moving on it. This was a directive from a Superior Court judge, and they decided -- not only decided; they were given the order to do it, and they did it.

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): New question?

Mr. Hampton: My next question is again to the Acting Premier. What is puzzling about this is, here we have a situation where the McGuinty government clearly could have headed off a serious situation. What we see now is, after there's been an altercation, a mediator has been appointed to hold discussions. What the First Nations want to know is, why wasn't there this effort towards mediation; why wasn't there this effort to understand the point of view; why wasn't there this effort to resolve this situation before the OPP resorted to use of force?

Hon. Mr. Smitherman: To the minister of aboriginal affairs.

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: I think I'd like to reiterate the invitation that we did give the leader of the third party, who didn't attend the briefing. I acknowledge the other members who did because, to get a full understanding of this -- but if the member wants to do this in question period, we can do it in question period. I think what's important for the member to realize is that there was a full engagement over the last two years on this issue between both the federal and the provincial governments and the duly elected chief and council of the Six Nations.

There is an issue here, and we've been working on it. If you ask Chief David General, he would tell you that there has been great progress made over the last six months, and it was only when a group in the community became impatient with the progress of the process that this occupation started. But we have been engaged with this, and want to resolve this with the community.

Mr. Hampton: With all due respect to the minister, your briefing today, which was attended by our staff and our representatives, really didn't answer the question that I'm asking you here. You knew about the seriousness of this situation for over the last year. The warning signs were all there. But there was no mediator appointed. Things were allowed to drift along. No leadership was shown. Then you get yourself into a situation where the OPP, despite their own protocol, enter into and use force in a situation where at the same time you're trying to say to First Nation leadership, "Let's discuss and negotiate." Tell me, what message should anyone take if, on the one hand, you're saying, "Let's discuss and negotiate," but not much is happening and, on the other hand, the OPP is using force?

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: All I can do is reiterate for the leader of the third party that this process, called the exploration, comprised of the two levels of government and the elected chief and council of the Six Nations, had been steadily working over the last two years and made great progress over the last six months. This exploration has published a document called Six Miles Wide. That is a reference to the original land grant that was made by the crown to the Six Nations of land, six miles either side of the Grand River, along the length of it, from Lake Erie all the way to Orangeville, and the rules and regulations in regard to that. What's in question is, was the appropriate crediting of the disposition of that land made to the Six Nations or not? We're all involved in that. We've made great progress on that and we continue to make progress. Hopefully out of this, we will expedite that process and get this resolved once and for all.

Mr. Hampton: With due respect to the McGuinty government, when thousands of travellers cannot get between Montreal and Toronto on the VIA Rail line, when you've literally got tasers and pepper spray being used in an altercation at Caledonia, where people are being arrested and where force is being used, that doesn't sound like progress to people.

It seems to me that the McGuinty government needs to show some leadership here. You have had over a year to appoint a mediator and get down to brass tacks. Why did you allow this situation to disintegrate to the point where the OPP are using force once again against aboriginal people, but then the day after that happens, you suddenly find the will to appoint a mediator? Can you explain that to people?

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: What the member has to understand is how complex an issue this is. I would ask the member to think about this: It's not like a labour negotiation: one side versus another side. There are at least six parties to this dispute that have to be brought into this. It is very complex. So we're working with all the parties. I think you'd have to understand that the province has taken a leadership role even though land claims, as you know, are primarily a federal issue. But we have appointed the mediator. We are making sure that the talks take place. We have our own negotiator there also, as does the federal government. I was in Ottawa today talking to the federal minister to keep him apprised of what we've been doing there and make sure we're working together to resolve this. We are working together and we are going to resolve this.

The Speaker: New question.

Mr. Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North): My question today is for the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. I'm confident that you, as the minister responsible for the Ontario Provincial Police, are briefed each day on the situation at Caledonia. Minister, my question is fairly simple; it's not complex like some of the questions the minister just responded to. My question is, how much does it actually cost on a daily basis to have the OPP at Caledonia?

Hon. Mr. Kwinter: Operational issues with the OPP are the responsibility of the commissioner of the OPP. The commissioner does not check with me to see if they're spending the right amount of money or anything else. Any questions of that kind should be directed to the OPP. This is an operational issue for them. The commissioner deploys her personnel in a manner that she and her executives deem to be appropriate. Whatever costs they have, they have to deal with that in their budget.

Mr. Dunlop: It's interesting to hear you answer the question that way. When we asked a couple of weeks ago, when we called the OPP, it was someone from your office who responded to our call.

Minister, a week ago in this House I pointed out to you that the expenditure estimates for this year indicated that the field and traffic services of the OPP had to be slashed by some $31.3 million. You denied this. The Caledonia crisis has created a huge drain on the OPP budget. Officers from across the province have been sent to Caledonia, leaving serious gaps in the staffing at their home detachments, things like overtime at the home detachments. My question is very simple: Are you prepared to allocate additional emergency funding to the OPP, and if so, how much funding would you allocate?

Hon. Mr. Kwinter: The OPP have to be prepared for many, many contingency things that happen. This is part of their responsibility and part of their operation. Again, the commissioner has the responsibility to allocate her personnel resources, the people, the manpower, in a way that will provide security and safety in the best interests of the public. I do not interfere with that particular aspect of her job. I can tell you we have increased the funding to the OPP regardless of what you feel about it. I can tell you that if you take a look at the budgetary estimates, they'll show you that. I can tell you that in my regular communication with the commissioner, there has never, ever been a question raised about inadequate financial resources.


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