Caledonia remains a “sacrificial lamb,” says Mayor Ken Hewitt, two weeks after self-described land-defenders from the neighbouring Six Nations dug up roads and CN railway tracks during a confrontation with Ontario Provincial Police over a housing development.
Accounts vary about how police deployed rubber bullets and tasers, but damage in the aftermath are “at least a half-a-million bucks” for the township, Hewitt told The Epoch Times.
The hulk of a destroyed school bus still remains on Argyle Street as part of a blockade, and an electricity pole was torched, knocking out power to several homes.
“This is unacceptable despite what the intention is. There’s an expectation in society, regardless of who you are or your culture, that you subscribe to a rule law that prevents this kind of anarchy,” Hewitt said of the destruction that occurred shortly after police attempted to enforce an Oct. 22 Ontario Superior Court injunction.
Members of the Six Nations, commonly referred to as Iroquois, are also called the Haudenosaunee. Some Six Nations members and their allies have been occupying the construction site at the McKenzie Meadows housing development in Caledonia, which they’ve renamed 1492 Land Back Lane. They say the development is on unceded land and that it violates the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee people. They want to stop the development from going ahead, despite the fact that the Six Nations Elected Council had agreed to it.
Named in the court injunction is Skyler Williams, who has been front and centre in the occupation of the site that began on July 19, posting updates about their activities and motivations on Facebook and claiming any violence was instigated by police.
Superior Court Justice John Harper, however, noted in his decision that Williams’s claim is “part of the false projection.”
“The escalation of their violent behaviour is often followed by Skyler Williams’ projected blame for the violence on others, including the OPP,” Harper wrote.
“The OPP have been attempting to enforce the orders of the court and I find, as a fact, that they have done so in a manner that is very restrained and often in response to aggressive actions taken by protesters against them.”
Since 1995, the Ontario government has been in negotiations with the elected Six Nations band councils as well as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an organization of hereditary chiefs, for possible financial compensation over decimation of the Haldimand Tract in southwestern Ontario.
The tract of land originally extended for 10 kilometres on each side of the Grand River from its source near Dundalk, Ontario, to Lake Erie. It was granted by King George III to the Haudenosaunee in 1784 for their loyalty to the British during the American Revolution (1775–83), after they lost their homes in America following the war. Over the ensuing 230 years since that time, this homeland-in-exile has been reduced to a 190 square kilometre reserve outside Brantford, Ontario.
In an Aug. 15 statement, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy outlined its opposition to the development and backed “our people and our allies who are taking peaceful steps to protect and save the land for our future generations, who will have nowhere to live and prosper if the settler population continues to unlawfully encroach upon our lands.”
While the situation at McKenzie Meadows remains at a stalemate, Justice Harper has left Williams with the blame and the legal bills—more than $167,000—incurred by developer Foxgate Development and Haldimand County, in a decision chronicling Williams’s social media braggadocio and defiance of previous injunctions.
“Skyler Williams and the protesters have continued to act in such a manner that reflects a willful and complete disregard for the law and the orders of this court,” he wrote, noting events in August that included tire fires and barricades on the same roads now in rubble.
Williams said he’ll be appealing the ruling, according to Global News.
“As far as I’m concerned, that liability lies solely with the Crown,” he said. “And for this developer and this particular judge in Haldimand County, Ont., to be able to make a ‘once and for all decision’ for land claims for Haudenosaunee people over this particular tract of land is absolutely ridiculous.”
Ontario-based lawyer Peter Best, who has worked in indigenous law, blames such situations on an internal OPP document called “A Framework for Police Preparedness for Aboriginal Critical Incidents.” He said “the OPP treats it as gospel” and followed it in a similar crisis in Caledonia more than a decade ago, which remains unresolved.
“[The framework] has no legal force or effect and so the problem emerges when political and police elites allow it to affect their duty to the rule of law,” Best said of the police policy that emerged following the shooting of Dudley George, an unarmed Ojibwa protestor, during a 1995 indigenous protest at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
In October 2019, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Suzanne Côté said the framework had no legal underpinnings when the court overturned the arrest of Caledonia resident Richard Fleming in 2009. His “crime” was waving a Canadian flag opposite a similar uprising in the town over a different real estate development.
“Nothing follows from it: the O.P.P.’s policy had no special status in law,” wrote Côté about the police’s justification for arresting Fleming.
“Even assuming that the trial judge erred — assuming that the flag rally was an ‘Aboriginal Critical Incident’ and the police were following the policy they had established — the lawfulness of Mr. Fleming’s arrest [did] not [depend] on whether it complied with police policy.”
Meanwhile, Hewitt says the police are playing a game of “catch and release” with Williams and his Land Back Lane cohorts, “so when that judge doesn’t reprimand these individuals, if they’re not held, they would just be released on bail and they go right back to the site.”
“For now, Caledonia will be the sacrificial lamb for the rest of the province. And my belief is the OPP and the province is concerned that if they apply what should be the rule of law here in Caledonia, then there’ll be other forms of action in other parts of the province,” he said.
The Six Nations Elected Council called for calm in an Oct. 23 statement.
“We don’t condone the violence or destruction of property and we are calling for calm to refocus our minds,” the statement said.
“We hope in the days ahead we can work in unity to focus on the common goal of our Six Nations Land Claims. It’s time for the federal and provincial governments to right the wrongs.”
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy did not respond to an interview request for this story.