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Judge gives Six Nations members until Oct. 22 to leave occupied subdivision or not take part in hearing

An Ontario Superior Court judge has given the 1492 Land Back Lane camp until Oct. 22 to vacate land slated to become a subdivision in Caledonia, Ont., before he rules on making an injunction against their presence permanent.

Justice R.J. Harper said if the camp occupiers vacated he would hear constitutional arguments presented by Skyler Williams, the spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane.

Harper said if they remain on the site, he would exclude Williams from the scheduled hearing and hear arguments only from lawyers representing the subdivision developer, Foxgate Developments, and Haldimand County, the municipal authority that oversees Caledonia, which are seeking the permanent injunction.

“It is never proper or acceptable to achieve your goals, regardless of how heartfelt they are, in open defiance of the law and in flagrant disregard for the life and property of others,” said Harper, in a ruling delivered after arguments Friday at the courthouse in Cayuga, Ont.

Members from Six Nations, which sits next to Caledonia, set up the camp in July saying to reclaim land they said was stolen. The property is part of the Haldimand Tract granted to Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution. 

The property is currently part of an ongoing court case before the Ontario Superior Court with a trial date set for October 2022.

Skyler Williams, a spokesperson for the 1492 Land Back Lane camp, said there are no plans to vacate the property.

“If we leave here, the development goes forward. To extinguish land claims by expecting folks to vacate our own lands is absolutely ridiculous,” said Williams, speaking after the court hearing.

“We as a community have said no and we are going to stay here.”

Williams, who is named in the injunction filing, represented himself during the hearing. The lawyer representing Foxgate Developments challenged his continued participation in the proceedings.

Paul DeMelo, with the firm Kagan Shastri, said Williams and the members of 1492 Land Back Lane were “openly taunting and defying” the existing interim injunction, which was extended.

“We have an individual who has openly said he is in contempt and has indicated he will continue,” DeMelo told the court.

“It’s disrespectful to the court, it’s disrespectful to the law of this country, this province.”

DeMelo, in an argument supported by Harper, said that, technically, there is no existing land claim over the occupied lands. While the property is part of a broader case before courts since 1995 over loss of lands given to Six Nations, Six Nations was seeking compensation for owed monies over the colonial authority’s disposal of the lands, said DeMelo.

cayuga courthouse
Supporters of the 1492 Land Back Lane camp demonstrate outside the courthouse in Cayuga, Ont., on Friday. (CBC)

Under the federal land claims policies on historical claims, Ottawa has a ‘willing seller, willing buyer” position meaning no lands in private hands would be expropriated. However, settlement money is often used to buy back lands.

“Our people have been making claims to this land since the 1850s,” said Williams, speaking to reporters.

“For the court to say we haven’t been petitioning the government, the courts, for the last 150 years is absolutely ridiculous.”

Williams also disagreed with the judge’s conclusion that he was the leader of the camp. Williams told reporters he’s been presented by the camp as the main spokesman by design, to protect others from being targeted by court filings and police.

Williams raised the issue in court following Harper’s oral ruling.

“I cannot be responsible for the actions of other people. You keep calling me a leader. This is a community-led initiative,” Williams told the judge.

“I found you on the evidence before to be the leader of the protesters and occupiers, as such I’ve made an order,” said Harper.

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