By MPP Toby Barrett
In 2006, a pyramid of tires was set alight on the main thoroughfare of Caledonia, signaling what was to come. The Stirling Street Bridge was torched, permanently ending access to that side of town. A stolen van thrown off the 6th Line overpass, blocking the Highway 6 bypass around Caledonia. The rail line between Caledonia and Nanticoke shut down. This destruction supported the February 28, 2006, illegal occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision.
The ensuing 14-and-a-half years has seen continued chaos and confrontation, stand off and stalemate, propaganda war and failed negotiation.
And then, this past February 24, we again saw the blockade of the Caledonia bypass and the CN Line as part of an Indigenous national insurgence of rail blockades in support of West Coast Wet’suwet’en Coastal Gaslink pipeline protestors. July 19th brought us yet another Caledonia subdivision occupation – in this case the McKenzie Meadows land development just east of Douglas Creek Estates.
Ensuing months have seen theft of heavy equipment – bulldozers, excavators — and the digging of trenches across Highway 6, McKenzie Road and Caledonia’s main thoroughfare, Argyle Street. Militants crushed a school bus into the trench barricading Argyle Street, after they stole it from the parking lot of a nearby church. In what is probably the most blockaded railroad in Canada, the CN tracks and equipment have again been destroyed at 6th Line.
I have been involved since day one – February 28, 2006, – and have witnessed much of the destruction, the fistfights, and the intimidation. Many have now given up the fight or, like most Canadians, are uninformed or indifferent to this debacle.
Our hope lies within our centuries-old institutions of governance and justice. Canada is unique in much of the world – I have been in 60 countries – where we abide by the agreed-upon rule of law. No one is above the law of the land, with the exception of Canada’s longest-running Indigenous insurrection – Caledonia.
If this sorry saga tells us anything, it is that there is a significant difference in the McGuinty government response to an illegal occupation compared to that of the Ford government – the Ford government honours court orders.
After the 2006 Cayuga court order by Justice David Marshall, then Premier McGuinty sent taxpayer-funded lawyers to argue that since he welcomed the occupiers on the government’s recently purchased Douglas Creek Estates, there should be no injunction against their presence. During the Liberal government’s appeal of Justice Marshall’s order, lawyers pointed out that the province did not wish to remove the occupiers and, therefore in essence, did not believe the protestors were breaking the law.
Fourteen years later, with the occupation of McKenzie Meadows, and the blockading of roads, both the homebuilder and the county have secured temporary and now permanent injunctions. The Ford government supports these court orders. Following the reading and posting of these injunctions, as of November 25th, 39 arrests have been made and 221 charges laid by the Ontario Provincial Police.
In the context of the on-going criminal and dangerous activity in the subdivisions and on the roads of Caledonia, clearly police, provincial and local officials have been unable to manage circumstances in the absence of federal leadership.
The underlying issue is, and always has been, federal. We need the federal government to intervene and bring this conflict to a peaceful resolution for all parties.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk