Oka mayor accuses Kanesatake grand chief of interference in municipal election

Serge Otsi Simon and Pascal Quevillon have been embroiled in a dispute over a housing development on land that’s part of the Kanesatake Mohawks' decades-old unresolved land claim. That dispute is spilling into the municipal election.

Serge Otsi Simon's support for mayor's rookie rival unethical, says Pascal Quevillon

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon says rookie mayoral candidate Marie-Claude Provencher is 'open' and 'respectful' and willing to work with Mohawks in the dispute over an Oka housing development. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The municipal election in Oka is taking a turn for the bitter.

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon is throwing his support behind rookie mayoral candidate Marie-Claude Provencher — a move the incumbent Pascal Quevillon calls unethical.

"If it was a mayor of a municipality who took a position against the mayor of a neighbouring town, it would not be well received," Quevillon said. "It's a lack of ethics."

The grand chief says he likes that Provencher appears to be prepared to work with the Mohawks to find a solution "in the spirit of reconciliation."

"She's open, respectful and we see that she's ready," Simon told Radio-Canada Thursday.

Simon and Quevillon have been embroiled in a dispute over a housing development on land that's part of the Kanesatake Mohawks' decades-old unresolved land claim.

Simon says the Mohawks were never consulted about the project and he wants it stopped before it encroaches further on a stand of trees known as The Pines.

Tensions flared in July when a dozen trees at the edge of the stand were cut down to make way for a power line, triggering protests by Kanesatake Mohawks.

At that time, Quevillon said the developer of the Domaines des Collines D'Oka had reached an agreement with the Mohawk council back in 2003, but Simon claimed there are no formal agreements on file.

Mayor, grand chief trade barbs

Quevillon said Simon's support for Provencher amounts to "interference," and that Simon is using the candidate, who is new to municipal politics.

"It's in the interests of [Simon] to have a puppet," Quevillon said. 

Relations haven't always been so bitter between the mayor and the grand chief. In 2015, on the 25th anniversary of the Oka Crisis, the two led a reconciliation process that aimed to leave old wounds behind.
Mohawk leader Ellen Gabriel, far left, and Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon talk during a protest at the site of the Collines D'Oka housing development in July. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

At that time, Oka's municipal council and Kanesatake's band council promised to work together to protect The Pines.

Quevillon now accuses Simon of "one-way reconciliation" and taking unilateral decisions without consulting Oka officials.

Simon, meanwhile, says Quevillon does not respect the Mohawks and refuses to admit that they "were there long before."

Simon has warned that a wrong move could cause the situation to degenerate further, raising fears of a new standoff between the Mohawks and the municipality.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Laurence Niosi