Sauble Beach and the challenge of Reconciliation

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Sauble Beach is a major summer tourist destination in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. It stretches for 11 kilometres along the Lake Huron’s eastern shoreline south of the Sauble River.

The tourism economy has stimulated the growth of a resort and year-round community of the same name bigger than some towns in the area of southern Ontario often referred to as Grey-Bruce, after the two counties it includes. Much of the community of Sauble Beach is in the Town of South Bruce Peninsula.

Municipal officials are planning to excavate a portion of sand dunes and expand the parking area along the west side of Lakeshore Blvd. beside and running parallel to the beach. They regard it as a relatively small, road improvement project aimed at making the parking situation safer.

They might have foreseen the extent to which the project would raise concerns from environmentalist. So, for that reason alone, municipal staff and council appear to have fallen into a trap of their own making. They should have known better by now. This week the project was put on hold likely until the spring after an environmental law group threatened to get a court injunction if the project went ahead.

But — and not to downplay the importance of mother nature — there is an even bigger underlying issue: who owns, or in the parlance of governance, who really has jurisdiction over the north section of the beach still being managed by the municipality?

That issue was deserving of more public attention because it is reaching a critical legal point in a lengthy court action.

Indeed, the Saugeen First Nation, which has long included the southern half of Sauble Beach in its territory, regards the outcome as a foregone conclusion: “The lands in question are part of Saugeen First Nation, and while that is not accepted by the South Bruce Peninsula Town Council, it is simply fact. Saugeen and the Government of Canada agree on this and will be taking the Town to court to settle,” Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anoquot said this week in a joint public statement issued by the Saugeen First Nation and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) Environment Office.

Canada is going through an ongoing period of ‘truth and reconciliation’ with First Nation, or Aboriginal, people who live within the country’s boundaries. Between 2004 and 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in connection with a series of cases that the Crown had a ‘Duty to Consult’ where First Nation constitutional or treaty rights stood to be adversely affected.

Canada is a sovereign country, but still technically a constitutional monarchy under the British Crown. Senior Canadian national and provincial governments are regarded as Crown representatives with a responsibility to uphold the ‘honour’ of the Crown regarding the Duty to Consult.

The details of delegating that legal requirement to municipalities and other ‘third parties’ is still a work in progress, though some local municipalities have already implemented such a policy, including Bruce County, which includes the Town of South Bruce Peninsula.

The Saugeen First Nation has claimed ownership of the north half of Sauble Beach for 30 years. The claim maintains the north-south boundary line of the First Nation reserve was mistakenly drawn after the land was surveyed following the signing of the 1854 treaty involving the Bruce, formerly Saugeen, Peninsula. At the time, Canada was still a British colony.

In August, 2014, Canadian government officials told a packed public meeting at the Sauble Beach Community Centre that the federal government supported the Saugeen claim. They proposed a negotiated settlement that would give the First Nation ownership of the entire beach, but with a co-management agreement with the non-Aboriginal community. That elicited an angry, defiant response from the mostly non-Aboriginal crowd and the idea was soon abandoned. The incumbent town council took a lot of public heat in Sauble Beach and was voted out of office in that fall’s municipal election.

In August, 2019 the Saugeen First Nation brought a motion before Ontario Superior Court for a ‘summary judgement’ regarding its Sauble Beach claim.

Motions for summary judgment are brought when one side believes its case is overwhelmingly strong. But if it fails, a regular trial process, as advocated for by South Bruce Peninsula since 2015, would still be left to resolve the dispute.

The First Nation is supported in that action by the Canadian government. The Town of South Bruce Peninsula opposes the motion, and is supported by the Ontario government, South Bruce Peninsula mayor, Janice Jackson, said in an interview.

SON and the Saugeen First Nation strongly maintain it should be consulted by the Town regarding the Lakeshore Blvd. project before any work is done. Municipal and Saugeen representatives met on-site in late November and early December after the First Nation raised concerns about the lack of consultation and offered a “reasonable consultation process” proposal, the First Nation and SON said in the Dec. 8, 2020 joint statement.

That followed the results of a special town council meeting Dec. 7 when council voted to carry on with the project, without consulting with the First Nation. In an interview the town’s mayor, Janice Jackson, said there was no informal agreement with the First Nation for consultation before that vote. “It was always going to be up to council,” she said.

On her Mayor’s Facebook page following the council decision, Jackson spoke of the town’s actions to gain approval from other agencies before there was any contact with the First Nation: “After lengthy collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) and the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, we were given the green light to move forward. We didn’t expect the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) to demand consultation, as we have never previously consulted them on roadside work on Lakeshore Boulevard,” Jackson said in the Dec. 8 Facebook post.

Jackson said the First Nations have “cited the land claim as the reason we must consult.” She added, “our legal team strongly advised us to carry on with this project as we have no legal obligation to consult and that doing so would be precedent-setting and potentially cause harm to our land claim litigation.”

“We proposed a reasonable process to work towards consent on this project,” Chief Anoquot said, “and, without even reviewing the consultation plan, the town has unanimously decided to go ahead without our consent, without any consultation and without an opportunity for our staff to analyze the information and make informed recommendations that would resolve the issues at hand (parking and safety) and minimize to the greatest extend possible, any impacts to the environment,”

In all the circumstances, including long past, and recent history, the town should have consulted with its First Nation neighbor in a respectful, good-neighbour manner. It could have been done ‘without prejudice,’ a legal term that could have prevented the consultation from being used against the town in the ongoing litigation.

I am confident the Saugeen First Nation leadership would have honored the spirit of such wording, no matter what the lawyers might say.

And where was the Ontario government regarding its obligation to honor its Duty to Consult, and/or advise the municipality?

The Lakeshore Road Blvd project is not just small-scale, road-maintenance, not when such important, underlying issues affecting the peaceful future of the country are at stake. Every possible gesture of reconciliation is precious.

Imagine the difference it could make.

5 thoughts on “Sauble Beach and the challenge of Reconciliation

  1. Until I read the Truth and Reconciliation Report I had no idea how much of the Treaties Canada and Provinces had violated those agreements. In addition, the Treaties in their own right were , in my opinion, were government biased to begin with. That said, the reconciliation report was to attempt to fix the wrongs in a new acceptance process.

    It did upset a lot of people and still has carryover to the present day. I know from my time over the last 40+ years here on the Bruce the non-Aboriginal people have in general not respected those treaties and give off the entitlement attitude. Ontario Gov’t has a very biased attitude from my observation and doesn’t feel the need to respect even the non-aboriginal people’s rights.

    There comes a point when the glass is full, it is full. Sauble has been overcrowded for many years and they just keep bringing in more and more small business and tourists. North Bruce is the same. They keep promoting the area as tourist area and there is no place for the people to go without destroying more and more landscape. Additionally, the businesses want the taxpayers to eat the infrastructure costs while they winter in the south. The last two or three years show a prime example.

    I protested in the paper this last spring when it was suggested that we should pay more taxes to support more growth. The township made enough money off parking the first year to support extra parking and washroom facilities and no one knows where that money went and yet there was likely the same or more this last season. At what point are we full? Don’t ask the businesses, they will never be happy as long as they can pass the support cost onto the taxpayers.

    The complaint that there wasn’t enough water tipped me off. Tobermory is surrounded by water on three shores and would be the envy of so many geographical locations in Canada and across the world. Those backbench enterprises should buy some pumps or go away quietly.

    Not to mention how much permanent residents have to tolerate tourist season.
    Thank you for your Post
    Dan Carpenter
    Miller Lake

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    • Thank you for your comment, Dan. Yes, there comes a time re tourism when enough is enough. I well remember a time on the peninsula when tourism officials and many local politicians worried constantly the peninsula wasn’t living up to its tourism potential. Then along came the national park proposal and they thought that was the ticket to a busy tourism future. Well, the future is now; and it certainly is a mixed blessing, to put it mildly. Too much is too much.

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  2. I live and work right at the location of this planned work. The facts as stated by this council and current Mayor did not line up with the facts on the ground. Meaning the proposed work was about safety and it was considered an emergency. This is not the truth. The other false statements by Mayor and council is that they have stated over and over again that it is just 2 or 3 feet into the dunes and it is work that always has been done except the last three years was not done and no one seems to know the answer. I think anyone who is aware the dune damage and two convictions, we all know why it wasn’t done for the past three years. It seems to me that it is also time for new legal advice as anything can be worked out without prejudice as stated. To further answer the concerns of Dan. The TSBP is bringing in a new MAT which is taxing 4 percent of all rentals in TSBP. This will mean 50 percent by law has to go to advertising and promoting this area every year. Hundreds of thousands will be spent, more and more people will come to TSBP, there is not real plan, no beach management plan. us tax payers are tired of these poor decisions.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Tom. Sounds like it’s time for development of a strategic plan for the beach that looks at all the elements, including the highest priority for what’s good for the natural environment of the beach itself.

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    • I believe if one digs deep enough, the provincial gov and the agenda 2030 is playing a part and no one is talking about it because if they do the shit will hit the fan. The same type of BS is going on in NBP. Time to give all Municipal Gov a wakeup call, in my humble opinion. The Municipal Gov of USA bankruptcy was final Nov 5/2020 which Canada is tied into via the Vatican and they are still attempting to continue their role even though their Constitution with the United States of America (Unincorporated) is null and void. It is part of the Vatican’s UN INC Agenda to the NWO. Time for Canada Inc to be dissolved and a new Republic to be formed.

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