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Ontario to buy land in Caledonia dispute

Plan to buy out developer 'offensive', Tory leader says

Chris Wattie and Jeffrey Hawkins - CanWest News Service
National Post
Published: Saturday, June 17, 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.]

CAYUGA - The Ontario government reached a tentative agreement yesterday to buy back the plot of land that ignited the Caledonia native blockade in a deal that seemed to do little to satisfy antagonists.

Lawyers for the province rose during a court hearing into the dispute to announce that the government had agreed to buy land in Caledonia, occupied by native protesters since February.

Lawyer Donald Brown said the provincial government would buy the property from the developer who was seeking to build more than 600 homes.

"The land will be held in trust until the issues of ownership and use are resolved," he told a hearing before Justice T. David Marshall of Ontario Superior Court. "The ultimate use of the land has not yet been decided," he added.

Lawyers for both the province and the developer, Henco Industries Limited, said that no price has yet been agreed upon for the Douglas Creek Estates property.

But David Ramsay, Minister Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, said that the two parties have agreed on a price, although he would not disclose the amount.

"It was part of the agreement ... that the price be kept confidential," he said. "I can assure you we paid fair market value."

Henco in the past has estimated its losses in the dispute at $45-million, a figure that would not include the cost of the land upon which they have already built several homes.

The province also announced it would spend $1-million to compensate businesses in Caledonia for losses that arose after native protesters barricaded railroad lines and major roads in the area.

Mr. Ramsay defended the cost of the purchase as a worthwhile way to end the dispute. "We are spending taxpayers' dollars all the time to settle land claims," he said. "The people of Canada have an outstanding liability in all these land claims and over time, as we settle them, there are huge cash settlements with First Nations.... I guess I would have to say, you've seen nothing yet."

Agenda for native empowerment: Brison, A20; Lorne Gunter, A23

John Tory, leader of the opposition Conservatives, called the Minister's remarks "offensive" and decried the secrecy surrounding the land deal.

"It's offensive, frankly, that they would do a deal like this, tell us it's a great progress but not provide us with any of the details as to how much," Mr. Tory said. "What's wrong with telling us the amount when it's the taxpayers' money that's involved? Why would they not tell us? Is there some problem? Is there something that they are embarrassed about? I think it's important that we should know."

He said the agreement "has all the appearances of a kind of rushed action."

Mr. Ramsay called the agreement to buy the contested land "a big contributing factor to the ultimate resolution," but native and non-native residents of Caledonia were not as optimistic yesterday.

One member of the Six Nations band, which claims the land developed by Henco was wrongly taken away from it in the 1840s, said the agreement did not solve anything.

"There's still many issues that the Six Nations people would like to see addressed," said Thomas, who refused to give his surname. "It's not right, it's not tolerable. The land should be turned over to the First Nations people, it's Six Nations land and in the end that's who's going to be there."

Ken Hewitt, of the Caledonia Citizen's Alliance, said that the agreement is a hopeful first step for the town of 12,000, which has been locked in tensions since the blockade began.

"Until the [First Nations] occupiers aren't there any more, this situation will continue," he said. "They're still in there and that means it will continue to be a hot spot for the rest of the summer."

"We're still staring at blockades and occupations on the land. The tension won't change until the people occupying that land remove themselves."

Kevin Clark, who lives near the disputed plot of land, was more pessimistic about yesterday's deal. "Everything is not back to normal," he said.

"We've had native warriors running around, intimidation going on.... People -- my neighbours -- are still being harassed, day and night."

Janie Jamieson, a spokeswoman for the Six Nations band, said provincial officials "haven't resolved anything with us."

"That title and jurisdiction isn't placed back with Six Nations, is it? And that's what the issue is."

Michael Bruder, lawyer for the developer, said his clients were relieved that their role in the dispute was nearing an end. "Obviously, they wish that this whole three-month-long process had not happened," he said.

"They were left with no option but to negotiate with the province to end this."

Yesterday's agreement was announced after a highly unusual hearing before Judge Marshall, the senior judge for the area, in which he ordered nearly a dozen lawyers into his rural Ontario courthouse to answer pointed questions on why native protests and blockades remained despite court orders and injunctions.

The judge said, "The rule of law has been suspended to some degree" in Caledonia since a small group of native protesters from the Six Nations reserve occupied the dusty construction project in late February. Two court injunctions ordering protesters off the property were ignored.

After a dawn raid by the OPP on April 20 to arrest those still at the site, hundreds of angry native protesters descended on the land, blocking a rail line, main streets and a bridge in support. Caledonia residents have since held counter-protests, attracting hundreds who called on the government to end the blockades.

An OPP officer has been hit in the head by a bag of rocks, a bridge was burned down, a road was torn up by a backhoe, and the electrical system was brought down by a series of fires.

Police are investigating 25 criminal charges stemming from the dispute, including assault on police, kidnapping, theft, arson and mischief endangering life. Yesterday, officers arrested one of seven people wanted on warrants after a series of violent clashes at the site.

Audra Ann Taillefer, 45, of Victoria, was been charged with intimidation and robbery after an elderly couple's vehicle was swarmed by protesters in Caledonia last Friday.

And Judge Marshall yesterday issued a sobering warning to all parties in the dispute before adjourning the hearing into what he called "this unhappy situation."

"Lest one should go away thinking that everything's entirely happy on all sides, it is not," the judge said. "This [situation] has fostered disrespect rather than respect for the rule of law."

"Both communities have been damaged and I fear that we have not heard the last of the effects of this damage."

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