Wednesday, August 9, 2006

McGuinty appeals court injunction

The government of Ontario now says they are going to appeal a decision that requires land claims negotiations to stop until the natives vacate the site voluntarily or are forced to -- but at the same time says they'll hedge their bets anyway and comply with the order until a panel at the appellate division can hear the case. In other words, Dalton McGuinty wants to have his cake and eat it too. (Text of the decision is here.)

While the province has the right to pursue such an appeal, I just wonder what that's going to accomplish. Things were proceeding at a snail's pace to be sure, but at least they were talking -- which is more than what can be said for the blockade at Ipperwash Provincial Park, now into its eleventh year. And for once, both the elected band council and the traditional leadership which has traditionally refused to recognize the authority of the former were actually on the same side of the negotiating table. Knowing something about the politics on the reserve -- having some acquaintances who currently live off the territory -- this is quite remarkable. On that count, one can understand why Six Nations would support McGuinty's appeal.

But the decision of the court can't be taken apart. The judge also ordered the Attorney General to do its job and enforce the original injunction -- so it's well within its rights to make sure the protestors get off the land. The tensions and racism expressed by both sides are truly regrettable, but as an act of goodwill it might help for the occupiers to voluntarily -- and temporarily -- vacate the lands before the OPP and RCMP send in SWAT teams; or the army moves in and imposes martial law. By saying the courts have no business in the land claims process, what the province is also saying is that it shouldn't be doing its job in enforcing the injunction -- and yet it say it might while the process is pending. That is just disingenuous, and the protest has now dragged on for five months.

As for the claim some of the Haudenasonee have made that they are not Canadians -- well, technically, they are. Matter of fact, they are (as I understand it) dual citizens of Canada and the United States under the Jay Treaty. They may have sovereignty over their territory but until Douglas Creek is formally ceded back to them they are in Canada and they have to respect our laws.

There is a very narrow window here that's rapidly closing. We've seen comprehensive settlements of land claims in the territories and Northern Québec, but this is a chance to have a real land claims settlement in Southern Ontario ... where all 29 remaining Six Nations claims are settled in a comprehensive manner, the band council gets real autonomy, and a role model for cooperation between whites and Natives is established for other land claims across Canada. Goodwill is required from both sides and fast; but quite bluntly I don't see any forthcoming.

The other point -- Aboriginals are supposed to be a federal responsibility. But given Harper's hands-off approach to the issue, I don't see this one being settled for a long time to come.

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