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.

Ontario and the meat industry are heading in the wrong direction with new Trespass Act

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I was browsing through my copy of the periodical Bruce Peninsula Press recently when a brief item from the Municipality of the Northern Bruce Peninsula, December 9, 2019, council meeting caught my eye.

It stemmed from correspondence received from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs requesting support for the provincial government’s proposed Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019. The act is essentially about discouraging animal welfare activists from going undercover to expose animal abuse. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the brief item in the local paper, or even the government documents that purport to explain the reasons why a tough new trespass law is needed to protect the meat industry. Continue reading

We’ve waited long enough to find out what caused the “blast” that shook our homes

brucemapAt 5:20 pm on December 13, 2019 a large area on the Bruce Peninsula was shaken by what was initially reported as a small earthquake by Natural Resources Canada, which monitors seismic activity coast to coast in Canada. It registered 2.1 on the Richter scale. Seismic events at that level are not usually felt, not until they reach 3.5 on the scale. But that one was felt, and heard, for several seconds from Cape Croker north-east of Wiarton, to Lion’s Head, about halfway up the peninsula.

As I’ve said before in several previous posts, I thought at first part of my house in Hope Ness, north of Hope Bay, had collapsed, and perhaps the nearby barn, or a large tree had fallen on or near the house. By that time night had fallen. I went outside with a flashlight but saw nothing amiss. Back in the house I turned on a kitchen tap and was relieved to find the water was still running. So, apparently the deep drilled well had not been damaged. Continue reading

“Blast” investigation narrows down

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At the end of Cathedral Drive about the same time the Earth moved

The “blast’ that took place in the Hope Bay area north of Wiarton on Friday, December 13 is now solely in the hands of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry because that is the ministry responsible for quarry regulations, says a spokesperson for the other ministry initially involved in a joint investigation. Continue reading

Quarry “blast” investigation underway

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The tremor from a blast north of Wiarton was felt as far as Lion’s Head

Officials of two Ontario ministries that oversee operations of pits and quarries in Ontario are investigating an apparent explosion in a quarry north of Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula late last Friday evening.

The incident was initially described as a “small” earthquake by Natural Resources Canada which monitors seismic activity. The tremor lasting several seconds was reported by the federal department as registering 2.1 on the Richter scale normally used to describe the magnitude of earthquakes. It was described by the federal agency as being about 14 kilometres north of Wiarton in the Hope Bay area. It was felt by numerous people from Cape Croker, northeast of Wiarton, to the village of Lion’s Head about halfway up the peninsula. Continue reading

Keeping one’s head up in ‘interesting times’

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Planting potatoes with granddaughter Mirabella (beautiful miracle), May 2, 2016. Photo by daughter, Lila Marie. And a good one it is.

When one reaches the pre-boomer age I’m at now, it makes no sense at all to look forward to spring. That’s despite yet another Canadian winter freezing itself in for a long stay and a “snow squall warning” in effect for the next couple of days. So, what else is new.

The only thing that makes sense for an old guy like me is embracing every new day when it has finally become obvious that every one of them is a Hallelujah! gift.

Yet, here I am, imagining it’s late May in the spring of 2020 and I’m out in the back garden again doing a first weeding in rows of recently emerged potato plants a month after planting, just like I was in the spring of 2016.

There was hope in the ground, and in the air, then. But a cloud had also appeared Continue reading

A hard morning frost, joyful wild apples, the soul’s journey, and Putin’s plan.

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Hope Ness, late October, 2019. The heart cries out with joy at the sight of such a tree.

A hard frost covered ground-level Hope Ness this morning as the dogs and I went for our early-morning walk. ‘Early morning’ is a relative thing though: as one day follows another it gets a little later and dusk a little sooner as the sun goes south. The dark, clay-loam soil I turned up in the front field a couple of weeks ago was white with the fragile lightness of frozen dew as the sun began to rise above the line of the woods to the south-east. Continue reading

Canada and China – A Timely Remembrance of a Special Friendship

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January 1, 2019, Hope Ness, Canada. The sun trying to break through the clouds before sunset

I am dismayed by the current, troubled relations between Canada and the People’s Republic of China. In my view, Canada has long had a special-friendship relationship with China, one that could and should be regarded as unique among nations. Now is a good time to remember it. Continue reading

Sing out for life

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With the sun now fallen below the equator, the mornings have come later with seeming haste over the past several weeks, as if anxious to move the season along toward winter.
It will come soon enough with all its challenges, I tell the sun, in hopes of seeing spring again. I cannot let go easily of this life. My spirit has not journeyed through the cosmos for God knows how long, and awakened to find myself alive on this little jewel of a planet, to welcome death; or, for that matter the end of the world. It is a gift, and to be alive for this brief moment, to be given the mind and body of a being set free to be joyful on the Earth is a wonderful miracle.

Like the children at the well, I could not contain myself. Maybe I was one of them, dancing around, coming closer, drawn by a certain delight we saw in the holy eyes, and the generous smile, in the empathy that made him one of us. No, he said, don’t chase them away, don’t diminish their joy in any way. Rather, be like them, and you will surely be in Paradise.

No, I am not one to let go of this life easily, or, God forbid, happily, in the name of supposed “end time” prophecy, the big lie of these terrible, lying times. Neither was he who wept in the garden at the imminent prospect of death. He loved life too, though he saw only too well what the future held, and tried to make another miracle to save the world.

And now?

“Oh, my dear friend,” I sometimes feel like crying out to the sky when the rain falls, “what have they done to you?”

Actually, it’s depressing to be alive in the last couple of years and wonder if the creeping madness of an unfolding tyranny can be stopped. Where are the “checks and balances?” How can so many people not tell right from wrong? How can people who should know better, who must have some knowledge of history, surely, continue to enable evil? Haven’t we been here before?

Sometimes, I think I’ll just stop watching the news. Just let it go. What can I do anyway, one small voice? I might be, probably would be, a lot happier. And there is something important to be said about going out into the world with wonderful happiness, like the children at the well.

But then I think that the best thing that could happen now, perhaps the only hope, is that as many voices as possible, millions and millions of them, are raised in unison, singing out another Ode to Joy for the sake of the world and life on Earth.