Indigenous

More than half of charges related to Land Back Lane occupation withdrawn

According to Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, more than half of the individuals who had charges related to Land Back Lane have had them withdrawn, or resolved by diversion.

Charges for mischief, disobeying a court order dropped against 24 people

Demonstrators occupied the McKenzie Meadows development in Caledonia, renaming it '1492 Land Back Lane.' (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Twenty-four out of 41 people who faced charges related to the occupation of a housing development site in Caledonia, Ont., have had them withdrawn by the court.

"It's a relief but there's still so many other places where our lands are being developed without our consent," said Courtney Skye, a research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led research centre based in Toronto, from Six Nations of the Grand River.

"It's really been proven over the past year where I've had to wait out this kind of unjust criminalization to be where I'm at now where it's OK for me to feel comfortable in my own territory again," 

Skye was one of many arrested after visiting 1492 Land Back Lane, a site occupied by members of Six Nations of Grand River since July 2020 to halt the now-cancelled McKenzie Meadows housing development. The site is on part of the Haldimand Tract granted to Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution. 

Courtney Skye is a research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led research centre. (Ian Maracle)

Charges against her for mischief, disobeying a court order and breach of conditions were withdrawn on Oct. 12. Skye said she donated $500 to an organization and the Crown agreed to not seek a conviction. 

"I wasn't a part of the planning. I wasn't there during the initial raid," she said.

"When our communities are under threat, you show up and you go there and you do whatever you can to help out your community members. To me, that was just the Haudenosaunee thing to do."

She said dealing with the arrest and the conditions imposed by the court impacted her career as a policy analyst, weighed on her family, and her own mental health.

"It raised a lot of questions around like whether or not I would be able to do the type of work that I do with vulnerable people because oftentimes you need to have a clean record," said Skye.

Over 50 arrests were made in relation to the occupation of the site. They included journalists, supporters attending concerts or lacrosse matches held at the site, and even some individuals dropping off food and water according to criminal defence lawyer Ian McCuaig.

According to Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General, 24 individuals have had their charges withdrawn or resolved by diversion to date. One individual pleaded guilty.

McCuaig said the Crown agreed to divert most of the charges.

"Essentially anyone who is in the category of just disobeying the court order, mischief, and then one breach has either been already diverted or is in the process of being diverted," he said.

Among them is Karl Dockstader, a journalist from Oneida Nation of the Thames, who was arrested in September 2020.

"It felt validating to have my charges dropped," said Dockstader.

"It was intense. I was worried about my job, my reputation, and my family. It was devastating. I honestly thought about it every day when I woke up and every night before I went to bed for the entirety of the three months."

Juno-award winning musician Tom Wilson also had charges against him dropped, after being arrested for performing at the camp. He said he feels the police were heavy handed in making arrests but that the tactic ultimately failed as the occupation continues over a year later.

"They were expecting that the threat of arrest was going to stop the land back movement or stop the support of it like it was some kind of fad," said Wilson.

"You can't deter people's beliefs and you can deter people's good will with colonial laws."

There are still 16 individuals facing charges that remain before the court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec. Email her at kanhehsiio.deer@cbc.ca.

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