By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA—Three local supporters of 1492 Land Back Lane, which led to the cancellation of a planned subdivision in Caledonia, were among the 12 people arrested at a protest site in BC last Thursday.
Once news of the arrests made its way home, supporters descended on the Highway 6 bypass in Caledonia, shutting it down for the second time this month in solidarity. Then, on the morning of Monday, November 22, members of the Land Back community took part in a solidarity march that impacted traffic along Argyle Street in the morning before dispersing. OPP was on the scene to “ensure public safety and assist with traffic control,” said Constable Mary Gagliardi.
Skyler Williams, Layla Black, and Logan Staats were arrested in BC for joining members of the Wet’suwet’en community in defiance of natural gas pipelines being installed on Indigenous land. Social media posts by Land Back have asked for supplies and supporters at the ongoing blockade on the bypass. Williams, Black, and Staats were all released from custody on Friday, however, the blockade in Caledonia still stood as of publication, with protests taking place in other parts of the province as well.
Williams posted a video following his release, stating, “It’s an absolutely amazing gift to see everyone lighting s–t up across the country right now. This is what is needed to be able to keep this fight going. That little bit of love and solidarity that everybody keeps on pushing.”
Williams has been heavily involved in numerous protests, which had previously seen him arrested for his time at Land Back Lane and for opposing the removal of a homeless camp at Lamport Stadium in Toronto.
Last October, Williams was the only individual named in a pair of injunctions issued by Justice R. John Harper at the Superior Court in Cayuga barring the blocking of roadways and restricting access of the occupied lands in Caledonia. Williams stated in court that he had no intention of leaving the occupied lands and, as a result, Justice Harper blocked him from participating in the process that led to the injunctions.
This case is yet to be laid to rest, as Williams recently presented an appeal to a three-judge panel at the Ontario Court of Appeals in Toronto last month while supporters held signs outside the courthouse.
Barry Yellin of Ross and McBride LLP, a Hamilton-based law firm, touched on some of the issues he found “procedurally unfair” about Williams’ dismissal from the proceedings.
“Justice Harper brought his own motion to strike out Skyler’s pleadings and materials … which is an extraordinary step to be undertaken by the Court,” said Yellin, noting that motion is usually brought forward by the prosecution.
Yellin argued during the appeal that Williams was being punished for refusing to comply with court orders, and as such, did not receive a fair chance to present his arguments.
He said that Wiliams was not given notification of procedural safeguards that might have prevented his materials from being struck. He added that the injunction was based on an abuse of process charge, not contempt of court as he asserts it should be:“Contempt of court is different than abuse of process…. In contempt of court, a party can face many penalties including being ordered to go to jail. It is quasi-criminal in nature. Thus, contempt of court must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. With abuse of process, which does not carry a possible jail sentence, it can be proven on the balance of probabilities,” said Yellin.
He added, “Skyler ought to have been afforded certain protections, including: the right to a hearing, the right to be presumed innocent until he is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to not be compelled to testify at the hearing.”
Yellin asserted that Skyler was not presumed innocent and was compelled to testify at the hearing, adding, “Justice Harper also asked Skyler if he would breach any injunction order in the future. Prospective contempt cannot be found. That occurred in the Douglas Creek decision of Henco, and the Court of Appeal found those findings procedurally unfair, just as it ought to now.”
Yellins and Williams want the Court to set aside Justice Harper’s permanent injunction order, as well as the order striking out Skyler’s pleadings, and they want to see a new hearing in the Superior Court in Cayuga.
The Haldimand Press also reached out to Paul DeMelo of Kagan Shastri LLP, who represented Foxgate Development at the appeal, but did not receive a response. During the appeal he commented, “Very clearly Mr. Williams was engaged in a process of disrespect of the court and lessening the status of the court in the mind of the public by refusing to abide by any order.”
While a decision is yet to be made on the matter, one of the three judges on the panel, Justice David Doherty, noted that the issues Williams is bringing to light are worthy of serious consideration.