According to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is the right of all Canadian citizens to engage in peaceful protest, however, it seems as though in Brantford this is not the case. On May 12, 2008, the City of Brantford passed two bylaws prohibiting interference with construction from any unauthorized group. At the time, this unofficially but very clearly applied to Six Nations groups protesting the development of land they felt they had a historical claim to. Simply put, Brantford passed two anti-protest bylaws.
“The case revolved around the post-Caledonia of power and influence by First Nations communities,” explains Mayor Chris Friel.
“It involved identifying land in the city of Brantford that is under land claims.”
In 2007 and 2008, private entrepreneurs were doing construction in several areas in the city.
A group of Six Nations individuals blockaded these areas where the projects were supposed to start in 2007. This evolved into a series of both small and large scale protests about residential and industrial development. The protestors were concerned that land they believed was historically theirs was being illegally developed without their consent or compensation.
“This was managed poorly by the political bodies at the time,” says Friel.
“The only option that was viewed was to take the protesters to court.”
The protestors felt that land they believed to be traditionally theirs should not be developed without the developing parties adhering to certain guidelines. If development were to take place, then the developer would have to obtain a permit and pay a fee to a Six Nations body governing the land claims.
On June 2, 2008 the City acquired an injunction regarding these specific sites. The injunction was supposed to stop the Native protesters, but instead escalated the situation. Roughly a month later, 100 protesters began speaking out again. Workers felt threatened when a construction fence was knocked down. These same protesters shut down multiple construction sites that day. These scenes continued through the summer of 2008 towards early 2009. Several of them led to violence, threats and intimidation towards workers.
According to Friel, court was not the right answer.
“It was a weekend before I became mayor when the decision came down in favour [of] the injunction so that no one was allowed to protest,” says Friel.
“We stagnated our own economic development because of how we processed that.”
Friel hopes that the injunction is set aside and instead people move towards negotiations. He knows that past governments made mistakes and he hopes to rectify them. If the injunction is set aside and negotiations are favoured, hopefully people will listen. Otherwise, the future is dim.