By MPP Toby Barrett
It has now been eleven-and-a-half years since protestors have been occupying the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision in Caledonia. On Feb. 28, 2006, a handful of people blockaded the entrance – and from what I could see – without the support of the elected band council or the confederacy chiefs.
Within six months – to the perplexion of many – the McGuinty government, having taken possession of the land, declared it no longer considered the occupation of the subdivision illegal.
Fast forward to this past summer. From Aug. 10 to Labour Day Monday, the main thoroughfare of Caledonia was blockaded again in front of Douglas Creek Estates, putting businesses and homeowners through psychological and economic hell. Specifically, many customers faced a six-mile detour, businesses lost 25 to 60 per cent of revenue, and staff – including summer students – were let go or had their hours cut. Homeowners expressed concern about property values and compromised service from firefighters, police and ambulance.
Then, on Sept. 1, the Ontario government announced it was standing down from dealing with the Caledonia blockade – leaving the matter in the hands of Six Nations.
As in the past, what people really ask for in Caledonia is peace, order, good government and, given the disruption of last August, compensation.
Through questions in the Ontario Legislature and communication with various ministries, I have asked for compensation for businesses and homeowners.
Haldimand County Council has been front and centre on this, given Ontario’s decision to take no direct action to remove the illegal blockade, essentially holding area residents and businesses ransom over the mishandling of the Burtch land transaction and the resulting in internal dispute at Six Nations.
The 381-acre Burtch property is in Brant, not Haldimand. Expropriated from area farmers by the federal government in 1941, it was built as a Second World War air strip for the RCAF Wireless School flying squadron.
The 4,700-acre South Cayuga land assembly and 1,360 acres that surround Townsend are also allegedly on the table.
This Sept. 1, Haldimand requested the re-establishment of the Local Business Economic Recovery Assistance Program. This grant program was established during the previous blockade and violence in 2006, administered through the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
Haldimand has also requested that policing costs because of last August, as well as any future costs, not be borne by Haldimand taxpayers.
A number of precedents for compensation have been set. Back in March 2007, Ottawa announced $10.6 million to help the province foot the bill for extra policing, and $15.8 million towards the purchase of the subdivision from the home builders. In 2007, the province gave local businesses $1.4 million, and $430,000 in compensation to homeowners. Haldimand County received $210,000 for marketing and $100,000 for the mental health counselling of local residents.
As well, the courts have awarded compensation in many separate instances including the $20 million Caledonia class action lawsuit.
Precedent has been set, not only for compensation from government, but also for future disruptions.
An eleven-and-a-half precedent has been set where the Ontario government has tacitly exhibited a willingness to tolerate suspensions of the rule of law. Going forward, institutional policies in place will make it difficult to guarantee peace, order and good government – and we will, inevitably, continue to pay the price.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.