Lawsuit filed by Chiefs of Ontario alleges Indigenous Affairs minister ‘made threats’ to organization over legal action

Statement of claim alleges that other ministers closed off communications after lawsuit was filed.

Chiefs of Ontario

Chiefs of Ontario Grand Chief Glen Hare speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Ontario legislature in Toronto.

Ontario’s minister of Indigenous affairs “made threats” to the head of the Chiefs of Ontario after notice was given that a lawsuit was going to be launched against the province, according to a statement of claim filed on Tuesday.

According to the court record, Glen Hare, Ontario Regional Chief of the Chiefs of Ontario, or COO, wrote to Ontario’s solicitor general on Dec. 8, 2023 warning him of a lawsuit over the province’s Community Safety and Policing Act.

Hare alleges in the claim that following his letter, he received a call from the minister of Indigenous affairs three days later.

“The Minister spoke in an angry tone and made threats of retribution against the Chiefs of Ontario and the work it does in support of First Nations people in Ontario,” said the statement of claim. “For example, the Minister advised Ontario Regional Chief Hare that everything taking place between Ontario and the Chiefs of the Ontario will stop, now that the Chiefs of Ontario is suing the government.

“The Minister also used the threats of retribution in an attempt to put an end to the efforts by the Chiefs of Ontario to enforce rights under the Human Rights Code. For example, the Minister advised Ontario Regional Chief Hare that the Ontario Government cannot work on anything with the Chiefs of Ontario until the notice of the lawsuit is rescinded or removed. Ontario has not followed through with the threat to end all work.”

APTN News reached out to Greg Rickford, the minister of Indigenous affairs for comment.

“As this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” said a spokesperson in his office.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Hare also alleges in the statement of claim that “there has also been retaliation from other Ministers and their staff.”

“For example, prior to the letter, the Solicitor General and the Attorney General would accept meetings from the Ontario Regional Chief and other First Nations Leadership on this issue,” the claim alleges.

“After the letter, both the Solicitor General and the Attorney General stopped accepting such meetings. In addition, staff in the offices of the Solicitor General and the Attorney General have not responded to communications from staff at the Chiefs of Ontario since the letter of December 8, 2023.”

COO suing province, Canada over policing and safety

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The COO said it’s suing Ontario and Canada for failing to provide the same access to justice as other Canadians.

“The defendants cooperate together to ensure that laws other than First Nation laws are enforced in Ontario and that offences under those laws are prosecuted. They do not do so for First Nations laws,” said the statement of claim.

“As a result, First Nations laws generally do not function effectively in Ontario. This results in inequitable access to important benefits for First Nations people in Ontario, especially those residing on reserve, including access to justice, the rule of law, community safety, protection of property, and individual wellbeing.”

According to the COO, the action was called for by a unanimous resolution passed by the chiefs-in-assembly after years of attempting to work with the government of Premier Doug Ford on addressing “serious flaws” with its new Community Safety and Policing Act (CSPA).

The CSPA “explicitly excludes the enforcement of First Nations by-laws from mandatory police functions,” according to the COO website.

The law came into force on April 1, 2024.

“Everyone in Ontario and across the country wants the same for their communities— to be safe,” said Hare at a news conference at Ontario’s legislature Tuesday. “We have spent many years urging the Ontario government to make enforcing First Nation laws mandatory for police, but they ignore us.

“We have instead the community safety and policing act—it excludes First Nation laws.”

Hare said the legislation is discriminatory.

“This legislation has always been discriminatory, but ignoring the serious concerns of First Nations was the final straw,” said Hare. “Ontario had nearly five years to fix a preventable problem and they did not. This offensive legislation contributes to years of issues with both Ontario and Canada, who provide enforcement and prosecution everywhere in the province, except for our laws in our communities.”

According to the statement of claim regarding the important safety issues, “The prosecution and enforcement gaps cause grave harm to First Nations people, especially those living on reserve, because they prevent First Nations from being able to use their own laws to address their own challenges and opportunities.

“This leads to, for example, situations where First Nations people cannot keep their children safe from dangerous individuals and illegal drugs; cannot stop illegal dumping on their lands; and have no effective recourse if they are locked out of their apartments or if they have a destructive boarder living in their home; and, more broadly, where they are unable to benefit from self-government, including laws tailored to their unique circumstances and cultures.”

These laws require enforcement, which is currently optional under the CSPA.

Deputy Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois Allied Indians, Stacia Loft, said  First Nation communities are not as safe as their Ontario neighbours.

“That is due primarily to the flawed CSPA,” said Loft. “This adds to a long legacy of Ontario and Canada undermining the rule of law in First Nation communities—something that they both swear they uphold. The government is treating us like third-class citizens.”

“This stops today. We have no other choice than to take them to court.”

According to the COO, Ontario and Canada have declined repeated requests and recommendations to address these enforcement and prosecution gaps. As a result, First Nations do not have equitable access to justice.

At the news conference, the chief of police at Six Nations of the Grand River, Darren Montour, said the CSPA makes it hard for him to keep his community safe.

Chiefs of Ontario
Darren Montour speaking during a news conference at the Ontario legislature on Tuesday.

“Our police need to know that the government of Ontario is on our side as we serve our communities,” said Montour. “Ontario funds police to meet the standard of law enforcement set out in legislation and regulations.

“Leaving out First Nations laws signals that we might not have the ability required to keep people safe.”

Montour said the law means nothing if no one is enforcing it.

“Canada and Ontario both need to make sure that once we enforce a law, they prosecute it, otherwise, the law is meaningless.”

Despite years of advocacy and attempts at negotiation, Ontario’s government has left the Chiefs of Ontario with no other option but to seek justice through the courts, according to the COO.

“Litigation is always a measure of last resort. In this case, it is clearly necessary, as vulnerable people are suffering in our communities. First Nations are asking for something that every other community in Ontario is provided with,” said Hare.

Highlighting the matters that keep making it hard for First Nations communities to be safe and make their own decisions, Montour adds —

“It is inexcusable that the very institution that is supposed to protect us is stopping us from doing our job,” said Montour.

“It keeps me up at night.”

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