Caledonia: We can learn from precedents that have been set

By MPP Toby Barrett

On February 28, 2006, as MPPs began to assemble at Queen’s Park for afternoon Question Period, I was alerted by a colleague that construction workers were being driven out of a subdivision in my riding, in Caledonia.

As a Member of the Opposition, I crossed the floor and sat down with then-Minister of Natural Resources, David Ramsay, who had responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs.  Given the seriousness of this very recent development, and because we both wanted to know who was in charge, we went through his briefing books together.  At every turn, the advice indicated—’this matter is federal’. 

The next morning, I drove down to Caledonia and walked back into the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision to find out what was going on and who was in charge.  I explained I was MPP for both Caledonia and Six Nations but was ignored, other than being invited to come to the fire to keep warm.  After a few hours one of the organizers explained they could not talk to me—’this matter is federal’.

Over the ensuing weeks, I continued to walk into the subdivision many times. And, as communication and trust developed, I served as a bit of a liaison with the police, talked to clan mothers and most of the players, and at one point drove to Ottawa to present their case to the Office of the Governor General.

These efforts pretty well ground to a halt after an aborted police raid on April 20, 2006 and the subsequent purchase of the subdivision by the McGuinty government.

But what then happened was unprecedented.  In spite of a Cayuga court ruling by Justice David Marshall, Premier McGuinty sent taxpayer-funded lawyers to essentially legalize the militant occupation—basically arguing that since Mr. McGuinty welcomed the occupiers, there should be no injunction against their presence.

On August 8, 2006, the province appealed Justice Marshall’s judgement ordering the Attorney General to take carriage of the ongoing contempt of court, and to report back at a later date.  

In court on August 22, government lawyers argued that Justice Marshall’s orders should be set aside until the fall appeal could be heard.  They pointed out that the province does not wish to remove the protestors from the occupied site, and therefore, does not believe the protestors are breaking the law.

At that point, we had a government in Ontario that had found a way to tacitly signal its willingness to tolerate suspensions of the rule of law.  Justice Marshall warned at the time, “If court orders can be disregarded, the whole fabric of democracy falls to pieces.”

When the previous government signalled its willingness to look the other way while laws were being broken, it raised concerns.  In 2006, people were watching, coast to coast, and were critical. 

The Vancouver Sun reported at the time that the “…Liberal government is more concerned with political sensitivities then with upholding the law.”  The Nanaimo Daily News labelled “McGuinty’s Caledonia gambit a catastrophe,” and the Winnipeg Free Press lamented, “The OPP, in fact, has been standing by since April, apparently on the instructions of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government.”

We can learn from the past.  Precedents were set and locked in place over the past 14 years. We now have provincial leadership that realizes it’s time for a change.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk