May 20/98: Natives lose Ipperwash Beach land claim


London Free Press
May 20, 1998
Julie Carl - Free Press Reporter

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Landowners at West Ipperwash beach are celebrating today after the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed a native land claim Tuesday against their properties.

But among Kettle and Stony Point band members, there was disappointment and bitterness at the loss.

The high court dismissed the claim on 33 hectares of land along 2 1/2 kilometres of West Ipperwash beach.

"It's been a long six years," said Mary-Lou LaPratte, spokesperson for the West Ipperwash Property Owners Association, representing more than 100 of the landowners.

"So many people are looking to get on with their lives."

Just up the road from the beach, the natives' disappointment was evident in the voice of Kettle and Stony Point Chief Irvin George.

"Any time we lose a battle over land, it's a bitter pill to swallow . . . our population is growing but our boundaries aren't."

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal immediately after hearing arguments Tuesday morning. Jeff Cowan, lawyer for the property owners' association, said in its ruling the court agreed with the Ontario Court of Appeal decision.

In that 20-page ruling in 1996, Justice John Laskin said "throughout this period, a minority of the band objected to the sale but even it acknowledged that a majority of the members wanted to sell," when the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point surrendered the land in 1927.

Tuesday's decision upholds the surrender of the land. Still to come, part of the same lawsuit, is a trial to determine whether the Crown breached its fiduciary duties, who owns the beach and who has the right to use it.

In 1992, the band launched a lawsuit claiming the surrender was not valid because some band members were offered payments to vote for surrendering the land. Band lawyer Russell Raikes argued that constituted a fraud on the rest of the band.

He said offering money to people in such dire economic straits as the natives negated their assent.

Cowan said the payments were made to all voting members of the band whether they supported the surrender.

The suit also claimed a breach of fiduciary duty against the Crown and easement and beach rights.

In 1995, Ontario Court Justice Gordon Killeen ruled against the natives' case on the non-beach front property, saying the payments gave the surrender "the odor of moral failure" but did not invalidate the sale.

However, his decision said the breach of fiduciary duty, easement and beach rights issues should go to trial.

Raikes said although he was disappointed the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, he was heartened that the court said the natives' "remedy lies in compensation" over the breach of fiduciary duty. The suit over a fiduciary breach, ownership and easement of the beach are still to go to trial, he said.

At least 68 property owners have beachfront property that will be involved, LaPratte said. Still others hold deeds that claim beach rights, said Cowan.

The Indian Claims Commission said last year that Ottawa cheated the band, buying the land for $85 an acre when speculators flipped it soon after for $300 an acre. The commission said the federal government breached its obligation to the natives by allowing the "exploitive transaction" and recommended it compensate the band.

A unique element of the band's land claim was the trespass lawsuit against each of the 114 property owners. It launched a $200,000 suit against each landowner for trespassing on what the Chippewas said was band property.

The 107 landowners that belong to the West Ipperwash Property Owners Association spent more than $300,000 defending their claim to the property. Cowan said they have been awarded court costs by both the Ontario Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal, but they'll recover only a portion of their actual costs.

LaPratte said she expects to see for-sale signs go up in front of each property in West Ipperwash today. Her beachfront house, which she purchased just 16 weeks before the claim was launched, has been on the market for six years.

No buyers could be found who were willing to assume the trespass lawsuit, LaPratte said. But now she's confident it will sell.

"Some people just want out. We don't want to risk it starting up again."

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