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Native blockade spurs biz lawsuit

Mike Oliveira
Canadian Press
June 14, 2006

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

TORONTO (CP) - Businesses and homeowners that have suffered the consequences of an aboriginal blockade in Caledonia, Ont., have no choice but to file a class-action lawsuit to recoup "tens of millions" of dollars in losses, their lawyer said Wednesday.

The province, the corporation of Haldimand County, Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Gwen Boniface and Cayuga detachment commander Insp. Brian Haggith are named as defendants in the suit, said lawyer John Findlay.

Findlay was hired by a local Dairy Queen franchise and the St. George Arms, a pub-style restaurant, to help local business owners in the town south of Hamilton recover some of the losses they've suffered since the blockade went up in April.

"Caledonia is very much a tourist-oriented town and the occupation has given it the perception that Caledonia is now an unsafe place to be - and that's affected property values," Findlay said.

Most businesses have reported revenue is down by 30 to 40 per cent, he added.

"The amount of damages has been substantial. I'd say it's in the tens of millions."

While only the two businesses have signed on so far, the suit is expected to grow exponentially as homeowners, their property values having plunged, begin to join the legal fight, Findlay said.

"Anybody that's been financially, adversely affected" is eligible, he added.

Aboriginal protesters began occupying a half-finished housing development on a contested tract of land on Feb. 28. Tension mounted after police raided the property on April 20, leading to defiant blockades across the town's main street and a nearby highway.

The main street blockade has been up and down a number of times since; both were again dismantled Tuesday by protesters who remain on the contested land.

While traffic is flowing freely again through town, Findlay said the damage has been done and some businesses are now barely on the brink of survival.

About 400 local businesses have been deemed eligible for emergency financial aid from the province, but only $500,000 was made available.

Along with more financial compensation, the businesses want to be more involved with the negotiations to end the dispute, Findlay said.

"They felt they weren't being considered as part of the process with respect to all the discussions going on over the occupation," he said. "The group didn't feel they were really being adequately represented."

There's still no guarantee that the lawsuit will proceed all the way to court, Findlay said, because the two companies involved are worried about being saddled with all the risks associated with an unsuccessful class-action case.

If they lose, they could be forced to pay the defendants' costs, so the companies are appealing for donations and for others to join the cause.

They could also seek protection from those costs through the Law Foundation of Ontario, but that insurance would cost 10 per cent of the total award if they win in court, which could be huge, Findlay said.

"There is a possibility if they don't raise enough money they may say to me either: 'Go to the law foundation,' or 'I don't want to go any further."'

David Ramsay, the Ontario minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Henco Industries Ltd., which legally owns the occupied land, said it has no immediate plans to join the suit and is focusing on its own ongoing negotiations with the government.

"We certainly heard about the class-action suit, those rumours have been around town for quite some time, but we're not part of it, we have nothing to do with it," said lawyer Michael Bruder.

"Our hope is we're able to conclude some type of agreement with the government and we're making some progress."

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