By Haldimand Press Staff
CALEDONIA—A few hours after Judge RJ Harper ruled that both Foxgate Developments and Haldimand County had “met the test for a permanent injunction”, a skirmish broke out between police and demonstrators. Within 24 hours, four blockades had been set up, including with the use of an excavator to dig trenches across the roads.
Skyler Williams, who is named in the injunctions that criminalize attending the McKenzie Meadows site or setting up blockades in the county, attempted to submit hundreds of pages of documents to the court for consideration during the hearing on Thursday, October 22, 2020. However, Harper ruled in the previous hearing that he would only hear Skyler out if demonstrators vacated the development site, which they renamed 1492 Land Back Lane. Skyler argued this was an unfair ultimatum, as it would allow construction to proceed once demonstrators left and he has no control over the actions of others. Harper did not agree, did not accept the documents, and ruled that the injunctions would be made permanent shortly before 1 p.m.
“I find that Mr. Williams continues to be in contempt, despite being given the opportunity to purge that contempt and be allowed to participate,” Harper stated. “Any material pleadings that he has filed – which I have not seen, but I understand that he’s filing a statement of defence and a counter claim – that they will be struck.”
Shortly after, self-titled land defenders at the camp on Sixth Line and Argyle Street South (known as 6×6) clashed with OPP, with each side claiming the other initiated escalations. Police ultimately tasered one person and fired at least one rubber bullet, leading demonstrators to block the road.
“OPP just came and shot some rounds of something. One round towards Kanonhstaton (Douglas Creek Estates) and one round toward the driveway at 6×6. Not really sure what is going to happen now,” said Skyler’s wife, Tahnee Williams, in a live Facebook update directly following the skirmish. “It is our stance that this injunction itself is not a valid injunction. It is not based on fact.”
Skyler posted his own video later that day, stating, “Almost immediately following the injunction hearing … OPP rolled up, shooting rubber bullets. I pulled some taser darts out of my brother’s back. This is the violence that we’ve been talking about.”
Police cleared public vehicles from the area and retreated, shutting down the road at Braemer Avenue and the bypass “in the interest of public safety.” The demonstrators would set up additional blockades on Highway 6, which police closed at Fourth Line and Greens Road, and on McKenzie Road, which the police closed from Fuller Drive to York Road. Additionally, demonstrators shut down the rail line. Skyler said the blockades, which included burning tires and pallets along with the burning of a hydro pole that left thousands without electricity for a few hours, were a direct response to the encounter with OPP.
“Now this is on them (the OPP). This is what happens when you come into a community such as ours to try and enforce injunctions put on Indigenous lands by racist judges. When OPP come in, guns a-blazing, letting rubber bullets fly past the ears of women sitting around the fire, this is an absolutely ridiculous concept,” said Skyler. “People all across Turtle Island are starting to stand up and understand we won’t tolerate this anymore…. As long as we stick together and stay together, amplify each other’s voices, there’s nothing that we can’t accomplish.”
OPP say they were not on scene to enforce the injunction at all, but instead responded to the scene “after several pedestrians were observed standing in the middle of the roadway causing a safety hazard.”
“While OPP cruisers were parked on Argyle Street South … rocks were thrown at several cruisers causing significant damage. When rocks and wood were thrown at the officers, for their safety, officers used appropriate non-lethal force equipment in response,” said OPP Media Relations Officer Rod LeClair, claiming that only one rubber bullet was fired, along with the single deployment of a taser. “There were no serious injuries to demonstrators or police.”
“All use of force situations are considered dynamic and constantly evolving (until the situation is brought under control). The goal is to stop the threat to the public or police with the lowest level of risk to the subject(s), public, and officer,” said LeClair. “Police are required to respond to the behaviour presented to them in the safest manner possible, and the use of force is always a last resort.”
Police later released video footage of a portion of the event.
In the video, two officers were parked as three masked men approach, striking the vehicle with a lacrosse stick, rocks, and a piece of wood. The officer on camera relayed the events on a radio and the video ends before the officers exit the vehicle. Videos released by demonstrators show them demanding a number of officers, now outside of their vehicles, “put their guns away” and leave the area. The 1492 Land Back Lane Twitter said in response to the police video, “Immediately preceding this, Haudenosaunee women had asked repeatedly for the OPP to leave the area. Don’t disrespect Haudenosaunee women. #AbolishPolice.”
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said of the video: “Protestors falsely blamed OPP for escalation in Caledonia. Extremely proud of my officers for their professional and measured response to keep the peace and preserve life while under attack. Arrests continue as members take a responsible and sustained enforcement approach.”
Haldimand OPP later sent out a news release stating a suspect in the video is to be charged: “Through investigation, OPP has identified one of the individuals and they will be facing charges. The OPP is seeking the public’s assistance to identify the individual involved wearing the camouflage jacket.”
“The police put out an out-of-context video,” said Williams. “Forgetting to mention the goading of our people. Not saying they threatened our women. It must be hard to be in the wrong all the time when dealing with native people across the country. So let’s find a one minute clip that shows us once in 100 days defending ourselves.”
By the next morning, demonstrators had brought in an excavator to tear up sections of Argyle Street, Highway 6, McKenzie Road, and the rail line. A school bus from the nearby church was also knocked onto its side over the Argyle Street blockade. OPP began detouring traffic completely around Caledonia, sending people travelling down Highway 6 to the York bridge to cross the river. LeClair said, “the investigation is ongoing and evidence (is) being gathered.”
Over 30 arrests have been made since the initial bout of arrests on August 5, which also prompted blockades. The Land Back Lane Legal Fund has raised approximately $250,000 to date to pay for representation for those arrested.
Premier Doug Ford addressed the situation, suggesting that a few “bad apples” are the cause of the violence, and said going “after police” is “unacceptable.”
“I don’t know if a few folks are going rogue but the way you get things settled is by sitting around the table, talking about solutions,” said Ford. “We will do whatever it takes to make sure we have peaceful dialogue.”
A large crowd gathered in Caledonia on Sunday, October 25 in support of demonstrators, dancing, singing, and drumming in front of the OPP and residents on Argyle Street. Calls were made for “land back” and to “shut it down”. Various unions, including CUPE Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Labour, attended the march and sent out messages of support online. The march aligned with the 236th anniversary of the Haldimand Proclamation, which is the 1784 decree that granted land to Haudenosaunee people that helped the British during the American Revolution.
Haldimand County pressured by St. Catharines to change stance
St. Catharines Council filed a motion on October 19, 2020 supporting the city’s Anti-Racism Committee’s recommendations for Ontario and Haldimand County to change tactics in handling the McKenzie Meadows land dispute.
“City Council (will) send a message to the Ontario and Haldimand County governments and Haldimand County Police Services Board that police should not be used to escalate the conflict and instead nation to nation negotiations and meaningful consultations should be used to settle all claims,” read the motion.
The St. Catharines Council said this letter is in response to “the Mayor and Council in neighbouring Haldimand (having) issued a statement advocating for police action instead of negotiations,” along with the Haldimand County Police Services Board calling the self-titled land defenders “terrorists” in a public statement. St. Catharines Council called these responses “a dangerous escalation considering past history, such as the Ipperwash Crisis where Dudley George was killed by police.”
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt’s email in response to Walter Sendzik was later shared on social media.
“There is clearly an issue with our federal government in responding to the ongoing Haldimand Tract Claim that covers lands from Dunnville to Waterloo along the Grand River. This land, as you know, is 98% inhabited by third-party owners and how that has come to be is for the federal government to determine and find ways to make restitution should it be required,” stated Hewitt in the email. “My frustrations are with your motion that undermines a situation that directly affects us here in Haldimand. To simply jump on a leftist agenda and assume that racism is what is driving mine, the OPP, and our courts as we attempt to resolve this ILLEGAL occupation of validly owned land by Losani is plain and simple wrong.”
“Your motion does not serve the 200 or so innocent homebuyers who are patiently waiting for their dream home to be built. The contractors who are waiting to earn the incomes they deserve, the community who wants to see these constant sources of intimidation and threats of violence come to an end. You see, what you may hear or read about on mainstream or social media is not fully capturing what is happening here on the ground,” continued Hewitt. “Before I would support a motion that directly affects another community in the province I would take the time to gainfully appreciate all sides of the equation prior to succumbing to some one-sided agenda that is more damaging than helpful.”
Supporters of the land back movement began questioning Hewitt’s objectivity however, as it was revealed in a Toronto Star article that he put down a deposit on one of the future homes for his child: “I purchased a home like anyone else; I paid the same price like anyone else, and my kids are waiting to move in just like everyone else.”
Hewitt did not respond to a request for comment on the situation, which demonstrators and their allies are calling a “conflict of interest.”
“His children get a home and to increase their generational wealth out of all of this. While my children have to deal with public officials calling for the OPP to target them, their parents, and their family,” said Tahnee Williams on Facebook, referencing Hewitt’s previous encouragement for police to arrest Skyler and his family. “Two families on different sides of the tracks, two very different outcomes. This is racism. This is colonialism. This is inequality. This is not reconciliation.”
Kyra Hayes, Haldimand County Supervisor of Corporate Affairs said on the matter: “Issues of potential conflict of interest matters are the individual responsibility of the elected official to identify and declare. Staff cannot provide advice in this regard and similarly have no role in monitoring or investigating such matters. An elector, or person acting in the public interest, may apply in writing to the County’s Integrity Commissioner to request an independent inquiry to be undertaken concerning an alleged contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, or alternatively, may apply to a judge for a determination on the matter.”
Haldimand County responds to blockades
From Haldimand County
On Thursday, October 22, 2020, following the granting of permanent injunctions to Foxgate Developments and Haldimand County to prohibit the continued occupation of the development site in Caledonia or on municipal property, a group of protestors began illegal and violent actions to block and vandalize municipal and Provincial property and roads.
While Haldimand County has consistently supported the need for senior levels of government to address outstanding indigenous land claims in our area, the actions of a few that flaunt our basic institutions and the rule of law must be condemned. No matter how important an issue may be, deliberately taking illegal actions that create chaos for others cannot be tolerated. The end does not justify the means in a civil society regardless of historic injustices.
Haldimand County is using all of its resources and influence with the Province, the Ontario Provincial Police, and Six Nations to encourage and promote a peaceful restoration of the blocked roads and end to the illegal occupation of lands. We do not believe that the actions taken yesterday reflect the values of the wider Six Nations community, nor have the support of its leaders and we are hopeful that the community will similarly condemn the use of illegal tactics and take action to help resolve the matter quickly and peacefully.
Residents who are impacted by these actions are asked to remain calm and have patience as we work toward a resolution of this very fluid situation. The County is taking steps to ensure that fire and paramedic services remain available to respond quickly to any calls for service and that, as much as possible, adequate traffic management initiatives are in place and all services continue to be provided. Residents are encourage to visit haldimandcounty.ca for information on road closures and service changes that may occur as a result of the current situation.
Mayor Ken Hewitt said “we recognize how difficult and unfair it is to our community to regularly be dramatically impacted as pawns in a dispute in which we are not a party. The current road blockades and damage to them need to be resolved immediately and anyone who believes in a just and fair society where laws have meaning should be advocating to the Province to take appropriate steps in this regard.”
Six Nations Elected Council responds
From Six Nations Elected Council
The Six Nations Elected Council is calling for calm, peaceful, and respectful relations on all sides.
We acknowledge the tensions in our community and are committed to taking actions to repair relations here at Six Nations. We recognize that the accommodation agreement at McKenzie Meadows is one of the concerns. We want you to know that we did it because we thought it was a benefit to our community. We have heard from many community members that they feel it was not the best decision for the Territory, and we are listening. We are bound to the agreement, but please know that we have learned from it. We commit to you that we can, and will do better. We do not condone the violence or destruction of property and we are calling for calm to refocus our minds. We are disturbed with the judgement handed down yesterday by Justice Harper, as it proves that systemic racism is alive and well in this country, including in the judicial system.
We hope in the days ahead, that we can work in unity to focus on the common goal of addressing our Six Nations Land Claims. It’s time for the federal and provincial governments to right their wrongs.
In good faith, we as the 58th Elected Council, motioned to remove the injunctions imposed on our own people at the Burtch property and the Central Administration Building.