John Tory would sue First Nations

I was recently invited to join Facebook by a respected friend, so I finally bit the bullet. It has been a great experience. A Facebook friend who helped out on the Canadians for Kyoto project I was involved with has proven to be an amazing source of interesting information. Unfortunately, the corollary to the phrase “No news is good news” is that “news is bad”.

I had great hopes that John Tory would be a reasonable, moderate voice that would take the provincial Conservative party out of the extreme right wilderness and bring a more measured tone to the Legislature. So I was a bit disappointed by his willingness to embrace nuclear power even more passionately than McGuinty’s Liberals.

But what my Facebook friend pointed me to is a side of John Tory I find far more chilling. Because although nuclear power terrifies me, its proponents are often progressive, compassionate people. They are often, in my mind, right thinking but mistaken in their analysis. But here is John Tory suggesting, in the face of Caledonia residents protesting the First Nations occupation in their town, that he would sue the First Nations groups for the costs of their blockade.

That would be chilling in itself, but there’s more. Tory singled out First Nations, union members, farmers and environmentalists to be taken to task. He pointedly excluded from his targets the Caledonia residents who planned to disrupt traffic to protest the slow negotiations in resolving the dispute in their town. And he also made it clear who he was protecting.

“We can’t afford to have businesses shut down, to have passengers inconvenienced…” he is quoted as saying.

So the illegal occupation of native land for centuries is to be firmly protected, the right to protest is to be rigidly denied, and the primacy of the economy is to be respected above the concerns of fairness, decency and human rights.

6 responses to “John Tory would sue First Nations”

  1. Karen writes:

    I thought of the exact same thing, how he was perhaps a moderate and if he did get elected, he would not be another Harper or Harris….But no, his true conservative nature is now showing,


  2. Andrea Grochalova writes:

    There is an old joke about communist regime, which says all people are equal, just some of them are more equal than others. My question is, can any resident of Canada break any law or we just have “more equal” people here?

  3. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Hi Andrea,

    I’m aware of the joke. My mom’s family escaped from Ukraine during the second world war, and my grandfather perished in Stalin’s Siberian death camps for a crime he was later cleared of.

    For every member of my family, this history has profoundly coloured our perspectives and our values. But ironically, it has also divided us politically. Part of my family has been contented to find a country where their rights are protected, has accepted the left-right division and opposes everything to the left as smelling of communism.

    For me, the issue has been one of respect for human rights, and I recognize that attacks on human rights tend to come from both extremes of the political spectrum. I’m also keenly aware that my family’s suffering occurred precisely because we were part of a resistent minority in an enormous country.

    Minorities throughout the world are systematically persecuted. Laws that are rarely used against the dominant culture are often used against minorities. And often laws are created specifically to restrict the civil, political and religious rights of minorities.

    For example, in Turkey, there is a law against “anti-Turkish” expression that theoretically applies to everyone, but is used almost exclusively against their Kurdish population. The Chinese have restricted children who learn in Tibetan from government employment.

    And in Canada’s not-so-distant history, we forced First Nations children into brutal residential schools ostensibly because they were entitled to an education, but also because it was felt that this would be a rapid way to integrate them into the dominant culture and quash dissent.

    You can pick any country and any minority and there will be a story there of equal laws having unequal results. As Anatole France said:

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in streets, and to steal bread.

    In this context, it’s not surprising that when John Tory enumerates the groups to which he would apply the law, he lists First Nations, environmentalists and union members. Missing from this list were the Caledonia residents who had just announced that they were going to stall traffic with a slow convoy to the Legislature. These are the “more equal” people of Canada.

    Respect for displays of public opposition is a well-entrenched principle in Canadian civil society that should apply equally to all. Perhaps the reason conflicts flare with First Nations people is that they tend to drag on.

    While most of us will happily spend an hour or two to help swell the ranks of demonstrators on issues like racism or the Kyoto accord, we will then get back to our busy lives. For many First Nations people, those things they are fighting for are fundamental to their lives — the existence of the forests they depend on, the cleanliness of the water they drink from, and the extension of the lands they claim. How long would you be willing to stand if you knew that when you went away, they would bulldoze your home?

    Laws in Canada are of two forms — legislated law and common law. The unwritten, or “common” law is based on precedents and goes back right into our British roots. Under common law, a judge would look into precedents of treatment in the past, and rule according to expectations. John Tory would lose.

    But he would maximize the pain and suffering to a very beleaguered people in the process, by forcing them through a very expensive and prolonged procedure, during which he could stop further demonstrations, effectively giving the builders a free ticket to go ahead and proceed with the project the First Nations are opposing.

    In his statement, John Tory himself recognized the “very legitimate land claims” of the First Nations protesters. So in what sense are these occupations “illegal”? From most people’s perspective, there has been an illegal occupation of hundreds of years on the lands that rightfully belong to the Six Nations. This “illegal occupation” is something John Tory is happy to ignore. He is not proposing that we pay the costs of this occupation.

    It is important to recognize that most negotiated land claims with First Nations people were made, at the time, between what were considered sovereign nations. We systematically forced the First Nations people onto what we believed were small and marginalized pieces of land that we could give up. As history unfolded and we discovered that even these paltry remnants had some value to us, we incorporated them into the fabric of Canada without ever asking those nations we had made treaties with whether or not they agreed to this. The centuries of abuse just go on and on.

    So a very real legal argument could also be made that since the treaties were negotiated with sovereign nations that were expected to make their own laws, the “legality” John Tory refers to should not even apply on those lands.

    The place of government should be to protect the rights of the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable. The most powerful can generally take care of themselves.

    When I think about fair treatment, the test for me is always to put myself in the place of both and ask myself honestly which I would prefer. When we have my kids divide a cake, we always ask one child to divide the cake and the other to decide which part to take. It is an effective way to make sure that the cut is made as equally as possible.

    If we went back far enough in history and tried to apply a fair legal yardstick, a very potent argument could be made that none of us belong here at all — that all of North America belongs to the First Nations because not a single square centimetre was ever gained by Europeans in a legitimate manner.

    But if we sweep historical injustices under the carpet and just look at the current situation, think of Canada as a cake. If I could choose between every advantage on the side of the First Nations and the advantages of the broader culture, I would not want to squeeze our population into the little fragments of land we’ve left to the first inhabitants. We are unquestionably the “more equal” people. We’ve got the bigger piece of cake.

  4. Andrea Grochalova writes:

    There are many legal possibilities to protest and to get public attention. I believe that if First Nations people use legal forms of protest, they would gain much bigger support of society and that’s what they need. The railway blockade caused so many problems to people who don’t have anything in common with the land claims.
    They suffered personal, financial and other losses. What really perplexed me is that the police hesitated to act despite the court order. Unfortunately, it was not the first case of police not doing their job in connection to First Nations.

    However unlawful was the settlement of Canada by Europeans, it’s history. We cannot go back to point zero. We have to get over the past and find solutions which are realistic today. We cannot pay for
    all errors made in the past for centuries. Where are we going to stop? In biblical times?

    First Nations people are not forced to live on little fragments of land. They are free to live anywhere. If they decide to live the way I live, buy the house next to mine, find a job in the same company where I work, they pay much less taxes as I do. Who is the “more equal” here?

    I agree with the idea of government protecting the beleaguered people. Just how beleaguered are unions? They fight for their own higher salaries exploiting other people who cannot protect themselves. How many people lost their wages as a result of the illegal TTC strike? Not everybody can bike (e.g. me) and not everybody can afford a cab.

    I think many people don’t understand that unions protect several people who are already “in”, but they create a big disadvantage for people who are “out”. In our unionized society, it’s much harder to find a job. What about the new immigrants who spend months looking for the first job because of the lack of Canadian experience? If there is no “protection”, it’s easy to employ anybody for several days and then fire them or keep them based on their skills. If unions protect workers against firing, who will hire a person without a recommendation? Who is the beleaguered one here?

  5. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Hi Andrea,

    Sorry for the extremely delayed response. Native issues are very near and dear to me. I spent half of every week for a year at a reserve in Brazil during my University years. The assault on native rights is not something in our long history, it is an ongoing tragedy.

    In my youth, after decades of forcing native children into residential schools where they were taught to reject their communities, the government shifted tactics and many native infants were adopted by well-meaning non-native families. It was a devastating policy. Land assaults have continued apace.

    If a native chooses to live on your street and work where you work, he will pay the same income and property taxes you do. He doesn’t pay these taxes if he lives and works on the reservation in recognition of the fact that reservations are theoretically separate nations. If you think about what true autonomy of an independent nation would entail, you realize how woefully inadequate our treatment of our native people has been.

  6. Hans and Lynda writes:

    Just found this discussion online! Thank you Adriana for your well-worded responses to Andrea’s viewpoint. So many express a view similar to hers and your responses were so reasonable and logical. Too bad that we don’t have more writers with your sensible arguments. Thanks again!

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