Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, province asked to deal with controversial ice hut ad

First Nations leaders in Ontario want action taken against an ice fishing hut rental company after it posted a controversial Kijiji ad that said status card holders are not welcome.

Provincial police say they have received complaints

Ice Hut Rentals posted a Kijiji advertisment over the holidays that stated status card users are not welcome.

First Nations leaders in Ontario want action taken against an ice fishing hut rental company after it posted a controversial Kijiji ad that said status card holders are not welcome. 

"It certainly evoked a sense of frustration," Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said.

"I was bewildered that in this day and age that type of messaging still persists out there."

Day told CBC News he wants the province's Human Rights Tribunal and Premier Kathleen Wynne to deal with the ad, which went online over the holidays but has since been taken down. 

It was posted by IceHutRentals.ca, a company near North Bay, Ont.

The rental business is being accused of racism after its managers wrote on Kijiji: "Please no status card users! You are not welcome in our huts. Equality for all or you will not get the time of day from us and will lose any deposit paid to us."

OPP looking into complaints

North Bay Ontario Provincial Police confirm they have received complaints about the Kijiji ad and are looking into it, but no charges have been laid, according Sgt. Carolle Dionne. 

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald wrote to Minister of Natural Resources Kathryn McGarry about the post and copied Wynne. He has also sent emails to Kijiji.

"It's not something that we want out there," McDonald said.

"It's incumbent upon us to speak up when these racist comments are present.... We're a welcoming people and value what each of us hold."

The post was uploaded just before Christmas, as people were searching for ice hut rentals over the holidays in northern Ontario. 

The company issued an apology on Facebook on Tuesday, but that fuelled more outrage. 

Company's apology a form of 'damage control'

"I don't put a lot of stock in the apology," Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod said.

"It's just the fact that he's [owner] trying to run a business and has realized after the fact that this was not a good move on his part and now he's scrambling to try and do some damage control. I think it's pretty obvious the damage has already been done and it's been self-inflicted."

CBC News has contacted the company, but has not received a response. 

The apology was authored by CEO Marc David Hyndman, who wrote: "We sincerely apologize from the bottom of our hearts for the confusion and thusly hurtful feelings that may have resulted from our poorly worded Kijiji ad."

Hyndman added: "You may still fish with us as long as Ontario 2017 fishing regulations are followed ... My mother taught me to treat everyone equally. We are color blind. We are sorry."

There is no confusion about what was meant by the original ad, according to Northern College instructor Norbert Witt, who is from Attawapiskat.

"It says you are not welcome and it's directed to status card owners, so it's directed to a certain ethnic group and that is a racist remark," Witt said.

"He [owner] doesn't apologize for it. He apologizes for what it may have done. But it actually did."

Chiefs call for improved dialogue, education

The government should use the controversy as an opportunity to improve public education on why Indigenous people hold status cards in the first place, McLeod said.

"A lot of Ontarians and Canadians across the country still to this day, 2017, don't fully understand the reasoning behind it and how this country was founded," McLeod said.

"Until we get better understanding, the movement towards reconciliation is never really going to be achieved. It has to come through education."

Day said he wants to see more awareness about treaty rights, especially within the Robinson-Huron Treaty where Ice Hut Rentals is located.

"There's a number of things that we can accomplish if we target the discussion in something that seems so wrong," Day said.

"Let's try to find the opportunity in the ways in which we can actually deal with the racism, the discrimination and where we can try to educate the general public."

No record of a licence issued to Ice Hut Rentals

The legitimacy of the rental business is also under question.

Despite advertising rental accommodations on Lake Nipissing, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources does not have a record of a commercial ice hut licence issued to Ice Hut Rentals or any information that the business is currently commercially operating on the water body, according to Kate Jordan, the ministry's manager of media and issues.

The ministry will continue to monitor the situation and follow up on any new information as appropriate, Jordan added.

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a national reporter for CBC Saskatchewan on secondment from CBC Sudbury. She covers news from across the province for radio, TV and online. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.