A lament for the proud, Canadian dream

Readers of this blog may recall that I have often written proudly about Canada as a wonderful example to a troubled world of a country where a great diversity of people of many cultural backgrounds live together freely in peace.

Ottawa in the midst of the Trucker Convoy protest.

I have always in the next stroke of the pen, as it were, noted that Canada is ‘yes, still a work in progress. It has a history of injustices, especially toward Indigenous people, that it seeks in good faith to reconcile. I have always taken a positive attitude, in expressing my personal belief that Canada is ‘heading in the right direction,’ based on the growing mutual respect of Canadians towards each other, and our shared belief, hopefully, that this is a ‘good country.’

That above being said, I now have to say, the events of the last few weeks have been personally disillusioning and heartbreaking.

I must also confess to being … yes, even angered by the sight of large groups of self-righteous people wrapping themselves in Canada’s flag, while doing great harm to the well-being of this ‘good country.’

Picking beans with great, granddaughter, Jorden: living the Canadian dream

And for what purpose? The truckers’ protest began with a focus on the federal mandate requiring Canadian truckers crossing the border on their return trip to Canada to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be quarantined if not. Then it became a protest against all government Covid-19 mandates and restrictions. In the midst of that were growing indications that the real objective is to overthrow the current Liberal federal government and democratic system. And so far, protest organizers – whoever they are, and wherever they are – and defiant supporters still occupying Ottawa and blocking vital, cross-border, trade routes, show no willingness to bend on that extreme demand. Meanwhile, foreign donor money, from ‘anonymous’ sources in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, has aided and abetted the undemocratic aims; Trump flags and U.S. flags, even Confederate flags, have flown at the Ottawa ‘occupation’ and border blockades. And Fox news, the most politically biased news media venue in the Western world, fans the destructive flames in blatant support. The ignorance of their unqualified hosts knows no bounds.

Meanwhile, around the world, Canada’s reputation as a peace-loving country, and Canadians as a peace-loving people, is in ruins.

I have to ask, who is this benefitting? Certainly, not Canada; and certainly not the future of my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; and yours too, my fellow Canadians, who felt warm and secure in the believe our good country was one of the best places in the world to live, and well on its way to being the best. We felt fortunate. We felt blessed. Didn’t we, most of us?

Some among us felt differently. They thought there was something fundamentally wrong, something evil even, embodied in the person of one man, one Canadian, one of us. It is a cruel and dangerous lie.

With certain rare exceptions, who haunt us still, none of us are perfect or evil, trucker convoy protestors and others with different opinions.  But the base, human instinct to close doors, to destroy or blockade bridges, to build walls, to fall into tribal traps, to not love your neighbor: those are symptoms of the ongoing human tragedy. As Canadians we are better than that, and as human beings. That sacred truth was reaffirmed, by the way, more than 2,000 years ago. I’ll leave it to the convoy protestors to discern what that comment is about and give it some thought.

The road ahead.

The Saugeen land claim and the ‘path of peace’

The out-of-court settlement just reached by Bruce County and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) is the latest indication SON’s long-standing land claim is heading toward similar, land-transfer settlements with the remaining defendants.

Those defendants include the governments of Canada and Ontario, and the three local municipalities on the peninsula that were always most at risk. That’s not only because the ownership of local roads has been at issue since the claim, as a lawsuit, was first filed in an Ontario court; but also because of the large tracts of Crown land on the peninsula held either by the province and/or the federal government, including two national parks. As a result, those settlements when they happen, will more than likely be much bigger.

The Bruce County/SON settlement involves 306 acres (124 hectares) of county forest in two tracts on the peninsula. The full details of the settlement are confidential.

Grey County and SON reached a similar settlement in September 2020 that included the transfer of 275 acres of county forest northwest of Owen Sound in Georgian Bluffs.

SON and Saugeen Shores, a local municipality in Bruce County that includes the towns of Southampton and Port Elgin, announced this past September they had reached a settlement. It included the transfer of four acres (1.7 hectares) of municipal property, financial compensation, and municipal support for housing development.

SON is comprised of two, closely-related First Nations, the Chippewas of Nawash, on the Georgian Bay side of the Peninsula north of Wiarton, and the Saugeen First Nation, on the Lake Huron side, south of Sauble Beach. In 1994 they combined to file a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court claiming multi-billion-dollar damages for alleged improprieties committed by Crown before and during negotiations that led to the signing of Treaty 72 in 1854. Under that treaty, SON’s ancestors, under pressure from Crown negotiators, including threats from one, surrendered most of what was then called, the Saugeen Peninsula. They were left with several, relatively small areas of land and hunting grounds on the upper peninsula.

The Grotto, in the Bruce Peninsula National Park

The surrendered land was surveyed into 100-acre farm lots, to be sold, and the money put into trust funds for the benefit of the Saugeen/Nawash people. But, for one thing, no provisions were made in that regard for newly-surveyed road and shore allowances and the land they took up.

The roots of the Treaty 72 claim go back to a treaty signed in 1836, when SON ancestors occupied a much larger area, as far south as present-day Goderich, east beyond present-day Wasaga Beach, and north to the tip of the peninsula. But that territory was being overrun by non-Indigenous squatters. Crown officials said they were unable to keep the squatters out. But they promised, if the Saugeen surrendered the larger, southern part of their territory, they would keep squatters out of the peninsula “forever.”

But, just 18 years later, Crown officials, were again looking for a further surrender of Saugeen land on the peninsula, and saying, yet again, they weren’t able to keep squatters out. One in particular, T.G. Anderson, went so far as to threaten the Saugeen that if they didn’t surrender the peninsula, the Crown would act unilaterally.

The SON lawsuit claimed Crown officials had thus brought the honor of the Crown into disrepute, and also breached the Crown’s Fiduciary (trust) Duty owed to First Nation people. The Supreme Court of Canada, in previous judgements, has recognized both as violations requiring compensation.

The Saugeen were, and still are, a fishing people active on the waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay on either side of the peninsula. In 2004 SON added an additional claim to the lawsuit, calling for a declaration of Aboriginal Title to the land under those waters. That would have been a first-such declaration in Canada.

The trial into the SON claims began under Justice Wendy Matheson on April 23, 2019, and ended October 23 of the same year. In her 211-page judgement released July 7, 2021, Justice Matheson did not find in favor of the claim for Aboriginal Title. She also found SON’s claim that the Crown’s Fiduciary Duty had been breached did not meet the requirements based on Supreme Court precedent.

SON and its lawyers have appealed those judgements.

Justice Matheson did however find the Crown had failed to keep the 1836 Treaty’s promise to keep squatters off the peninsula “forever.” She also found T.G. Anderson’s threats in preliminary negotiations for the 1854 treaty that summer breached the Crown’s honor. “He said that the government had the power to act as it pleased and that he would recommend that ’the whole, excepting the parts marked on the map in red and blue, be surveyed and sold for the good of yourselves and children,’” Justice Matheson said in her judgement.

“To do so would have been contrary to Crown policy, which, at least from the time of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, had required obtaining the agreement of the Indigenous group.”

Laurence Oliphant, the newly appointed Superintendent General of Indian Affairs for Britain’s Canadian colony, travelled from Quebec to take over the 1854 treaty negotiations. After arriving in Guelph, he and a member of the Upper Canada Legislature travelled by horse and buggy to Owen Sound, and from there to the Saugeen Village near the mouth of the Saugeen River. On the way, Oliphant saw the squatter and associated problems first-hand and recorded them in his final report after the treaty was signed. He spoke of “the tide of immigration, the search for ‘wild lands’, gangs of squatters, bloodshed and threats by squatters to settle on Indian Lands in defiance of the government,'” Justice Matheson wrote in her judgement.

During the trial, SON presented evidence to back up the claim that Oliphant lied when, in treaty negotiations, he told the assembled Saugeen/Nawash Chiefs “that squatters were, even then, locating themselves without permission” on the Peninsula. He went spoke of “the extreme difficulty, if not impossibility, of preventing such unauthorised intrusion,” as Justice Matheson later noted.

After Oliphant’s arrival, the treaty negotiations did not begin in earnest until the late afternoon of October, 13, 1854 because the Chiefs were out on their fishing grounds. The discussions went on into the night, until the treaty was signed about 1 a.m.

The next day, back in Owen Sound, Oliphant issued a public notice warning that squatters were not allowed on the peninsula land just surrendered in Treaty 72, thus making it Crown land. He wrote to the sheriff of Grey County, informing him of the surrender and requesting his assistance in “summarily ejecting” squatters. And, finally, Oliphant also wrote to surveyor Charles Rankin, asking him to do everything he could to keep the sheriff informed and help remove squatters.

However, Justice Matheson, did not agree Oliphant lied during the treaty negotiations and, thus, did not breach the honor of the Crown like Anderson. SON has also appealed that decision.

Since it was first filed filed in 1994 the SON lawsuit has claimed damages totalling $90 billion, an amount often cited in news media reports. In legal parlance that is known as a “placeholder,” John Bainbridge, a lawyer with land claim experience, wrote in the Bruce Peninsula Press in August, 2019. “Any litigant who fails to put in a figure for compensation in their Statement of Claim will get zero dollars if they win the lawsuit. If the SON establish that they have a valid claim, a negotiation will begin to determine an accurate figure for compensation that will probably fall far short of $90 billion,” Bainbridge wrote. He noted “the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is one of the biggest so far in Canada and the compensation they received was $1.4 billion.”

The SON lawsuit is being handled by the Ontario court, as agreed by the participants, as a two-phase process. It’s still in the first stage, to determine the merit, to one degree or another, of the SON claims. If in favor of SON to whatever extent as determined in phase one, the second phase will consider an appropriate amount of compensation and how that will be paid.

In that event, given the fiscal restraints of government coffers, made worse by the current Covid 19 pandemic, a purely financial settlement is unlikely. The stage has been set for settlements based on land transfers, as in the three out-of-court settlements already reached.

The overall process, as it now stands, may yet take more years. Or there may be a final out-of-court settlement involving the remaining defendants sooner, possibly in 2022. A lot depends on motivation of the two senior defendants, the federal and Ontario governments.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I note here that the province has about 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of Crown land in Hope Ness, just north of Hope Bay on the peninsula. My home and property are surrounded on three sides by it, including the Hope Bay Nature Reserve. That provincial Crown land is a prime candidate for inclusion in a potential Ontario/SON settlement.

Am I worried about that, for my sake, and the sake of my family? Not really. Despite the dishonourable way they were treated, over and over again, since before 1836, the Saugeen/Nawash people chose the path of peace in the courts of their historic oppressor to seek justice. That was, and remains a huge expression of hopeful trust in the current legal processes of the Crown and Canada, as well as the inherent justice of their cause.

And that is a thought worth taking into consideration as everyone on the peninsula waits, and thinks, about how the claim will, or should be, settled.

Paid parking backfires in Lion’s Head

A view of Lion’s Head Harbour. To see the lion’s head, look to the left and slightly above the lighthouse

(A note first to my thousands, if not millions of global readers of this blog: this is a local story. It involves local people trying to make a living from their business of providing their small community in Canada with essential needs, like food and hardware. Some of those needs are met by imported products made or grown elsewhere in the world by other local people in other countries trying to make a living; and thus, in some modest way they, we, are also helping each other.)

One of the special things about shopping in Lion’s Head is the friendly relationship you can develop over time with local business owners and staff. So, as I read the current issue (Nov. 2 to 23, 2021) of the Bruce Peninsula Press, I was dismayed to learn that those people and their businesses are hurting as a result of the implementation of paid parking, and the lack of prior consultation with them.

In the Publisher’s Column on Page 4, John Francis writes about letters on the agenda of an October 25 special meeting of the Northern Bruce Peninsula municipal council. He quotes from one written by Scott and Carla Hellyer, owners of Scott’s Home Hardware. Noting the lack of a Business Improvement Association, they write, “we wish that council would have asked individual businesses for input into paid parking in the downtown core before enforcing it during our COVID pandemic.”

Other letters, “some thoughtful, some angry,” Francis says, without naming those authors, were also critical of council’s approach: “Most importantly, local business owners feel that they were not at all part of the planning consultation process,” said one.

He goes on to blame the apparent lack of communication largely on “understaffing” at the overworked-staff municipal office, from the Chief Administrative Officer on down. As a result, no one has the time to devote to developing and implementing a sufficient communication strategy.

Now, I have to say I’ve long been a fan of The Press, and the amazing job John Francis has done over 40 years to start and keep it going, and apparently flourishing, at a time when print newspapers are an increasingly endangered species. The current issue also includes an article about the recent hiring of actual reporters on a paper that for years has largely depended on submitted content.

Meanwhile, over those many years, under corporate, ‘bottom line’ financial pressures, other local/regional news venues have disappeared, or experienced layoffs leaving them as pale shadows of what they used to be. I think back to that time in the early 1980s when the Bruce Peninsula National Park was a controversial proposal and the subject of an often-contentious, local-community debate. Numerous meetings, open houses, and other news developments mostly coming out of Tobermory were covered like a blanket by reporters from two Owen Sound-based TV satellite offices, local radio, the Owen Sound Sun Times, and the Wiarton Echo. Yours truly, based on the peninsula, did most of the reporting of the park debate for the Sun Times and the Echo, and the occasional story for a couple of Toronto-based newspapers before I became a full-time Sun Times staff reporter. But those days of ongoing, extensive, local news coverage are gone and may never come back. So, Kudos to the Bruce Peninsula Press for being there.

But, that being said, I find it ironic that what should have been a front-page story about paid parking hurting business was missed. Instead, the topic was divided in two, in the Publisher’s Column and the separate Reporter’s Notebook on Page 6, also written by the publisher. Odd, considering The Press appears to be transitioning to an actual ‘news’ paper.

If there is a communication problem regarding local government and public affairs on the upper peninsula, and that certainly appears to be the case, then the relative lack of professional news coverage is part of the problem. ‘The Press’ has long had an important role in public affairs and the peoples’ right to know. It is not “the fake news.” And beware of anyone, especially politicians, who say things like that.

The other point I want to make is that it shouldn’t be necessary to hire someone to develop and implement a municipal communication strategy when all that’s required is for someone to have the presence of mind to realize what’s needed. Was it such a stretch after all that a member of council could have said, shouldn’t we consider how this might affect local businesses?

And from there, actually talking to them would surely have come to mind. And if not? Well then, that’s a problem of another sort.

(Author’s note: This post has been edited to add some information and further comment.)

Sauble Beach and the challenge of Reconciliation

sauble1

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.

Immigration is good for this good country

canada-mapGeographically, Canada is a big country, the second biggest in the world after Russia, then closely followed in size by the United States, China and Brazil.

However, Canada is not a big country in terms of its population, far from it: on a list of the 50 most populous countries in the world it stands 38th, with a population of 35,362,905. That’s a little more than Morocco, but less than Sudan.

Canada is also widely regarded as one of the most developed and richest countries in the world, a member of the G7 group of the world’s most industrialized countries.

It is also, I think it’s fair to say, regarded as one of the most civilized countries in the world, in the best sense of that word. It has become in the last 50 years especially, one of the most culturally diverse countries where people of virtually every nationality, religion – or none – live together in peace. Continue reading

Celebrating Canada’s diversity

I suppose one of the advantages of getting to a certain age is the view it offers of how dramatically things have changed, in so many ways. Whatever may be happening elsewhere in the world that is troubling and worrisome, my country, Canada, has changed and is still changing for the better. I will go so far as to say it’s surely one of the more hopeful places in the world; perhaps even the hope of the world.

multiculti

Toronto, my home town, is now one of the most multicultural cities in the world

Continue reading

“Blue Monday,” no way

Well, so I hear it’s “Blue Monday” today in Canada, the day when the various midwinter factors in this good country supposedly come together to make people feel blue. There’s some truth in it, I suppose. I am after all one who experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS), a feeling of being somewhat depressed, or “blue.” It’s brought on by a lack of sunlight at this time of year in northern latitudes. Hope Ness is just south of the 45th Parallel, halfway to the North Pole from the equator. The village of Lion’s Head, about 10 kilometres north of here is exactly halfway, by the way. (Pretty place that, especially when the rays of the setting sun shine like gold on the Niagara Escarpment cliffs just across from Lion’s Head harbour.) Continue reading