A judge has ordered those occupying the McKenzie Meadows construction site in Caledonia, Ont. to vacate the premises immediately, extending for the third time two injunctions that also prohibit road blockades in the municipality of Haldimand County, 120 km south of Toronto.
In an oral ruling delivered Friday, Justice John Harper condemned the actions of “lawless protesters” who destroyed property, set fires and continue to openly flout his order to immediately dismantle the 1492 Land Back Lane camp.
“As a society, we cannot be held hostage to violence and threats of violence,” he said.
“There are very legitimate grievances and claims of Indigenous people in Canada. As a society and as a court, we must take into account the many years of systemic abuse inflicted upon Indigenous people, and we try to do so.”
“However, it is never proper or acceptable to achieve your goals, regardless of how heartfelt they are, in open defiance of the law and open and flagrant disregard for the rights and property of others.”
Skyler Williams self-represented in court after being named in the proceedings during the last hearing on Aug. 25.
“I am a Haudenosaunee man who does not belong before this colonial court,” Williams’s affidavit began. “As a Mohawk of the Wolf Clan and of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy…I believe and follow the Great Law of Peace.”
Counsel for Foxgate Developments, citing this passage, suggested Williams should not be allowed to participate because he’s in contempt of the court order.
“Yes, I am in contempt of your order, and that’s not something that I’m disputing,” Williams told the judge.
Harper found that “an astounding proposition.”
So he gave Williams a choice.
Given his “open and notorious defiance” of the injunction, Williams can vacate the site and be reinstated in the court proceedings, or the next hearing will decide whether to make the injunctions permanent without him there.
Police wary of using force
Ontario lawyer Chris Diana said that the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have and continue to enforce the order in three ways: using their plainclothes liaison team, using force and making arrests.
He said at least 77 charges were laid against 29 people so far.
Chief Supt. John Cain, who was the incident commander during the 2006 conflict, told the court that the OPP plans, considers and discusses a potential second raid, but it isn’t their favoured option.
Police said they have to prepare for “almost inevitable” violent blowback.
“The OPP’s belief that enforcement action will cause a significant backlash and likely result in violence is not only based on historical precedent, but also [the OPP’s] own intelligence and information-gathering and risk-assessments,” said Cain’s affidavit.
“Critical infrastructure such as railways, bridges and hydro stations may be attacked and damaged in retaliation for use of force by the police.”
Harper called this prospect “quite frightening” in his decision.
Province opens door to talks
Court files also contained correspondence from and to federal ministers Carolyn Bennett and Marc Miller with Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford cc’d.
Ottawa offered and remains willing to meet with elected and traditional hereditary Six Nations chiefs to discuss land issues and self-determination.
In a statement, Rickford’s office says they are willing to participate in the talks but didn’t offer any details.
“The federal government has suggested a dialogue with Six Nations of the Grand River and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and Ontario is willing to participate in those federally-led discussions,” said spokesperson Flavia Musso.
“Ontario values dialogue with the leaders of Six Nations as we work together to address priorities and opportunities.”
Mayor wants warrant extended into Six Nations territory
The mayor of Haldimand County issued a statement on the occupation and blockades as Harper gave his reasons.
Ken Hewitt said dialogue is his government’s preferred route to reach a solution. But he said dialogue can’t happen “under the veil of threats and hostility” at the land back camp.
He pointed to an existing warrant for Williams’s arrest and suggested that OPP and Six Nations police could work together on it.
“I find it appalling that the OPP cannot extend the warrant within the boundary of Six Nations,” he posted to Facebook. “Skyler each night can enjoy a peaceful sleep without interruption while many here in Caledonia continue to be at the brunt of their tantrums when the police service is trying to uphold our laws.”
He also said the Six Nations need to take some measure of accountability – alongside Ontario and Canada – for the failure of negotiations.
“Caledonia/Six Nations could be seen as a celebration of success and not one of burning tires and frustration for all. It requires some efforts from all and it must come from a good place, a place not filled with anxiety and anger.”
Williams repeatedly insisted he isn’t in charge of the protest or the solidarity blockades and support camp which went up after the first raid.
“I am not at liberty to give you legal advice,” Harper replied. “I am simply indicating to you I have found you, on the evidence before me, to be the leader of the protesters and occupiers.”
The next hearing for the injunctions is set for Oct. 22.