Caledonia compensated $20M for native protest
Residents and businesses affected by a lengthy and sometimes violent aboriginal land-claims dispute in Caledonia, Ont., will receive $20 million in compensation as the result of a class-action settlement.
The deal finalized in court in Hamilton on Friday ends protracted litigation spawned five years ago by protests in the southwestern Ontario community.
"It hopefully brings to a close a very difficult chapter," Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley said.
"I just hope that the compensation allows the residents and the owners — caught up in a situation that is very challenging — to get on with their lives."
The settlement proceeds will be divided among residents and business owners who suffered direct losses as a result of the protest.
Bentley said the plaintiffs had developed a process to distribute the cash to those affected, based on their losses.
One resident, Sam Stargratt, called the settlement a pre-election "political ploy," saying the compensation didn't go far enough.
"Everybody in Caledonia should be compensated," said Stargratt, who will get an unspecified share of the proceeds.
"They should double it to include everybody."
In February 2006, members of the nearby Six Nations reserve began a blockade of a residential development in Caledonia called the Douglas Creek Estates. They argued the land was theirs.
Protest sparked bitter standoff
The protest sparked a bitter standoff that at times flared into violence, injuries and property damage.
It also became a political football, with the opposition accusing the Liberal government of mishandling the situation, and the province arguing the federal government was partly responsible.
Some homeowners and businesses near the site complained that provincial police weren't enforcing the law with Six Nations demonstrators but were heavy handed with Caledonia residents and their supporters.
At one point, provincial police moved in on the protesters but were forced to withdraw.
The province also paid the developer almost $16 million for the land, which was put in trust.
"No decisions have been made about the land," Bentley said.
"The underlying issue, the land claim, hasn't been resolved by the lawsuit," Bentley said.
He said "very active participation" had to come from Ottawa in trying to get the land claim settled.
The class action was filed on behalf of about 440 residents, 400 businesses and some subcontractors.
Some residents opted out of the class action to pursue their own claims.
Richard Peart, a representative plaintiff, said the protest situation cost his ice cream business about $250,000 because customers were afraid to go the store.
Plaintiff lawyer John Findlay said earlier the suit had to do with the "accountability" of public officials.
In December 2009, a Caledonia family settled a suit against Ontario Provincial Police and the provincial government over the handling of the aboriginal occupation.
The family had filed a $7-million lawsuit, claiming they lived under siege and were abandoned to a state of lawlessness after the aboriginal protesters occupied Douglas Creek Estates.