Hydro One takes legal action against Haudenosaunee demonstrations at work site

Hydro One has taken legal action against the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, after what it says were repeated attempts to block work on a transmission line project between Niagara and Hamilton.

Transmission line project in Niagara area has been part of ongoing land claim dispute

Hydro One was granted an injunction last week. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Hydro One has taken legal action against the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, after what it says were repeated attempts to block work on a transmission line project between Niagara and Hamilton.

An injunction orders council members to stop preventing work on the the Niagara Reinforcement Project, a 76-kilometre transmission line that has been part of an a land claim dispute dating back to 2006, says Hydro One's statement of claim.

Work on the project restarted last summer after a 10-year stall dating back to the around the time of the Caledonia standoff over Douglas Creek Estates. Work stopped again in January when members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) blocked access to the construction sites and issued a "cease and desist" order, the statement said.

People have continued to protest the project at times over the past several months, most recently blocking a site assessment in early July, says the statement of claim.

The OPP has been on scene at times to "keep the peace" during discussions, the police service said.

Hydro One's court order names the HCCC and Haudenosaunee Development Institute, as well as 18 individuals as defendants.

In a statement, the HCCC called the injunction "a sneaky, disgusting move," saying they did not have enough time to respond. The chiefs council said the injunction is an attempt "to bypass a good faith engagement with the HCCC" and that the land dispute "has been entirely caused by Hydro One."

Legal action a 'last resort:' Hydro One

Hydro One's statement of claim says the defendants "have a long history of organizing blockades, causing public disruption, breaching court orders" and interfering with land development and utilities "as a tactic to negotiate compensation and other benefits to members of the Confederacy."

The company said this legal action was a "last resort" to preserve economic and community benefits for the Six Nations and Mississaugas of the Credit communities and other Ontarians.

Hydro One said they held a number of discussions with the HCCC to hear concerns with the project, but did not come to a resolution.

Hydro One has been working with a partnership of the Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, known as the Six Nations Development Corporation. 

The Six Nations and Mississaugas will have 45 per cent ownership of the project, said Hydro One, and the project will create jobs and economic benefits.

The HCCC did not want to participate in these partnership negotiations, Hydro One said.

Divides between HCCC, Six Nations

The council takes issue with the company's deal with Six Nations of Grand River, challenging its legitimacy as a representative body.

There have been longstanding divides between the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy leadership and the elected Six Nations council. In a separate situation, demonstrators have been blocking access to the Elected Council Administration Building for the past several weeks. The Six Nations council said Tuesday that they will initiate injunction proceedings if demonstrators outside the administration building do not leave, and that they are trying to find a peaceful outcome and resolve longstanding community concerns. The Two Row Times reports that a temporary injunction was obtained Thursday.

According to Hydro One's statement of claim, HCCC maintained that the only way forward was if the council had a partnership interest in the NRP project and other company assets, to the exclusion of the Six Nations Development Corp. and Mississauga First Nations.

Hydro One rejected that offer in April, calling the HCCC's negotiations "unreasonable and bad faith." The company is seeking damages for trespassing, intimidating employees, interference and nuisance.

The HCCC called the deal with Six Nations of the Grand River "backroom" and said Hydro One's actions would "[replace] traditional governments with elected band councils."

"This is an attempt by Hydro One to eliminate the only Indigenous body that is willing to stand up to them," said HCCC senior advisor Aaron Detlor in a press release.

"It is yet another attempt by a Canadian government to impose colonialism on Indigenous people."

The Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation says it had an open and transparent community engagement process on the project, and it was ratified by the Six Nations elected council.

The corporation says a "resolution to this long-standing issue needs to be determined amongst political leadership, which includes the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and the Six Nations Elected Council," not the corporation.

Line could be running by September

Hydro One now says the line can be in service by Sept. 1, barring any other delays.

Hydro One said that if the project doesn't continue, "then millions will have been wasted on a project required to meet the needs of the electricity system and to continue to provide safe and reliable power to all Ontarians." 

Hydro One being 'condescending, colonist'

If it's not completed, Hydro One said, they will need to find another solution — meaning more spending and likely "higher electricity charges."

The parties were back in court Monday, with Hydro One outlining the legal costs associated with the injunction. The company said they would not try to recover legal fees if the project proceeds without further delays.

The HCCC said they can work together to resolve the issue peacefully.

"HCCC has always been committed to partnering with Indigenous leaders, and provincial entities like Hydro One," said Detlor in a press release. 

"We want to make it very clear that we are willing participants to such discussions. But that cannot happen when Hydro One is proceeding in a manner that is condescending, colonist, and patriarchal."