Indigenous protesters ordered to pay oil giant thousands over pipeline legal battle
Haudenosaunee men spent months protesting at Enbridge dig sites
Todd Williams spent months sparring with Enbridge all over Hamilton, trying to disrupt the company's pipeline operations. And now it's costing him.
After a legal battle with the oil giant that centred on the company's property rights versus Indigenous treaty and hunting rights, Williams and another Haudenosaunee man, Wayne Hill, were ordered by a Superior Court in Hamilton this month to pay Enbridge $25,381.81 in legal fees. The costs award comes after Enbridge won an injunction barring them from maintenance dig sites.
Williams says that Enbridge has approached him with an offer to forgo those costs if he agrees to stay away, but he isn't sure if he wants to sacrifice his principles.
He contends that Enbridge's isn't properly consulting with Aboriginal communities about maintenance work on its Line 10 pipeline, which runs through Hamilton — though Enbridge says otherwise.
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"It's about not allowing us to participate. We're concerned about the land," Williams said.
"We have rights — treaty rights."
An Enbridge spokesperson said she couldn't comment on the specifics of the case as it's before the courts, but Senior Communications Adviser Suzanne Wilton told CBC News that "seeking legal remedies is always a last resort."
"Safety is our top priority and these steps were necessary to ensure that preventative maintenance required for the continued safe operation of our pipeline could continue," she said. "We would prefer to achieve mutually agreeable solutions through conversation."
Blocking roads and tearing down fences
According to court documents filed as part of the injunction, Enbridge says that Williams and Hill have been "regularly interfering" with its work crews at maintenance dig sites along the pipeline since Jan. 26, 2017.
The documents say there have been "dozens" of incidents where Williams interfered with work crews, and at least six incidents involving Hill.
"Enbridge alleges that one or both of the defendants have torn down snow fences, blocked roads and gates, and have verbally demanded that work be shut down," the documents say. "In one incident Mr. Williams blocked a maintenance dig site such that Enbridge employees working at the site could not leave until he was persuaded to move his truck.
"Enbridge alleges that after two weeks of obstruction the defendants placed rabbit traps to obstruct its access to certain maintenance dig sites, asserting treaty hunting rights."
Other protests have sprung up over Enbridge pipelines in Hamilton in recent years, including an occupation of the North Westover pump station in 2013.
Williams, who is an engineer, is part of the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI), which is in turn part of the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council.
He wants Enbridge to notify the HDI of work along the pipeline, and to pay to have Haudenosaunee monitoring staff on worksites to make sure the work is being done safely and to environmental standards.
In court documents, Enbridge says that it wrote letters to two First Nations (Six Nations of the Grand River and the Mississaugas of the New Credit) and to HDI describing the nature of the work.
For Williams, that wasn't enough. "We need more engagement, more consultation than just a notice," he said.
Treaty rights versus property rights
Williams says he started camping out at sites and setting traps (which are humane cage traps), citing the Nanfan Treaty of 1701, which he says include his harvesting and hunting rights to the land.
In the end, the court found that Enbridge was entitled to an injunction restraining Williams and Hill from interfering with any dig sites.
"They determined their rights override my treaty rights. They're pretty much saying I can't have my treaty rights on private property," Williams said.
"Well, when that agreement was signed, there was no private property."
Williams said that ruling is not being appealed.
In the end, the two men are now on the hook for Enbridge's legal costs — which amounts to $18,387.81 to Williams and $7,000 for Hill.
Williams says that he can dip into his retirement funds to pay it off, but that treaty rights and environmental safety are both bigger issues.
He also says that Enbridge has made an offer to forgive the costs award, if he stays away from the company's work sites for two years.
Enbridge would not confirm or deny that offer when asked, citing the court proceedings.
"I'm considering it, but we're talking about my rights and how they're considered," Williams said.
"If I get up and walk away, they're just going to continue."