Self-titled land defenders preparing legal response

Self-titled land defenders preparing legal response
CALEDONIA—Skyler Williams shared this photo of demonstrators playing lacrosse on site, which has become a regular activity.

By Haldimand Press Staff

CALEDONIA—Over six weeks have passed since self-titled land defenders entered Foxgate Development’s McKenzie Meadows construction site. In that time the courts have heard from the developer’s legal team multiple times, granting the first injunction and then extending it along with additional injunctions for blockaded roads and railways, which have since been voluntarily reopened by the demonstrators. Now, the demonstrators are preparing their response.

“We are building our legal team as we speak,” said land defender Skyler Williams, who has been at the site since July 19, 2020. Williams was one of nine to be arrested on August 5 after the first injunction, but he returned to the site later that day. He has no intention of walking away, asserting the lands are unceded Haudensaunee territory.

“We have held the property here for the last 250 years,” said Williams, who was personally named in the newest injunctions. “Haldimand County has issued permits to build on land they knew was unceded.”

Haldimand County disagrees, claiming the land was surrendered in 1835 in an agreement signed by 11 First Nations chiefs.

Williams said they expect to announce their legal team by next week. That team has to provide a response to the injunctions by September 14, as per the judge’s decision. Once filed, Foxgate will have time to respond back.

Justice R. John Harper, who oversaw the hearing on August 25, questioned why the OPP has yet to enforce the injunctions again since the demonstrators returned to the site after the first arrests.

“As a judge, I make an order expecting it will be obeyed and enforced. If it will not be enforced, why did I make the order?” asked Harper. He added that the injunction is not meant for OPP to open dialogues with the demonstrators, stating, “This is not a case of a land claim. This is a case that potentially involves nuisance trespass.”

Christopher Diana, a lawyer representing OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, said the situation is more complicated than it may appear to the courts, as commanders have access to additional information.

“The enforcement of the order is within the expertise of the police service, not the judiciary,” said Diana. He used the 2006 Douglas Creek Estates situation as an example of how enforcing injunctions can lead to more reinforcements supporting the demonstrators. He noted the OPP do not have the resources to hold the land once they remove demonstrators, adding that while the OPP will enforce the injunction, it “is no small task” and that “the situation remains very volatile.”

“The OPP continues to make operational plans to clear McKenzie Meadows and remove the protesters if (the Provincial Liaison Team) is unable to effect a better resolution,” Diana said.

Williams previously stated that the blockades were a direct response to the arrests made on August 5, alleging that the OPP used “violent” means such as tasers and rubber bullets to remove them. The OPP asserted at the time that they used appropriate levels of force in response to some demonstrators throwing rocks at officers, and they claimed that only one rubber bullet was fired and did not strike anybody.

Diana said in court that “the police should always maintain neutrality on the underlying issues,” but Williams responded, “There is nothing neutral about dragging Haudensaunee people off their own land.”

“Our community has been clear that land claims need to be more than just dollars and cents. The Additions to the Reserve process is a joke, asking us to buy back our own land,” continued Williams. “We have the right to be able to assert our authority and rights to the land here.”

Harper also called out the demonstrators in his decision, stating, “First Nations groups and individuals cannot simply sit on the sidelines after a lengthy legal process has been initiated to advance a subdivision plan, then obstruct the process by asserting various claims in the media and not the courtroom…. Open and flagrant disregard for the regular order, laws, and orders of this court cannot be condoned or tolerated.”

Williams responded, “That is ridiculous. A group of Hudenosaunee women went to court to be heard … and share their concerns with the court.”

“For them to be disrespected and the next day (Harper) says that Six Nations has failed to take part in reconciliation speaks to the prejudice in the courts, not just here but across the country,” continued Williams. He said a group of Six Nations members attended court to read a statement in support of the demonstrators but were turned away by the judge because “he wanted them to have submitted the letter several days ahead.”

Despite the setbacks in the courts, Williams says “morale has been great” at the McKenzie Meadows site, which they have renamed 1492 Land Back Lane. The group has been hosting regular community gatherings, including pot lucks, lacrosse games, and concerts with Six Nations musicians. The group has an email set up for e-transfers to get funding for resources and building materials at the site; they are nearing completion of a kitchen building which now has a roof and was getting windows put in this week. The demonstrators say the buildings are to ensure they can remain on site once winter arrives. As of press time, over 720 people had donated to the group’s legal fund as well, raising over $50,000 of their $200,000 goal. “It’s been really good to see the community come out to support us,” said Williams. “This is and will remain a peaceful occupation of our land.”

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