Judge orders Six Nations land reclamation spokesperson to pay legal bill for developer, municipality

An Ontario Superior Court Justice has ordered the spokesperson for a Six Nations-led land reclamation of a housing development in Caledonia, Ont., to pay $168,000 in legal bills for the developer and the municipality.

Skyler Williams says federal, provincial governments should pay due to their inaction on land dispute

Skyler Williams, spokesperson for the 1492 Land Back Lane camp, has been ordered to pay legal costs for the developer and municipality to obtain an injunction against the camp. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

An Ontario Superior Court Justice has ordered the spokesperson for a First Nations land reclamation of a housing development in Caledonia, Ont., to pay $168,000 in legal bills for the developer and the municipality.

Ontario Justice R.J. Harper issued the order in a written ruling released Thursday which expanded on his reasons to grant a permanent injunction against the land reclamation on Oct. 22.

Harper ordered Skyler Williams to pay Foxgate Development $117,814.18 and Haldimand County $50,349. The total legal bills are based on the costs amassed by Foxgate Development and Haldimand County, the municipality that oversees Caledonia, in seeking injunctions against the reclamation camp and against any related road blockades throughout the county.

Caledonia is about 20 kilometres south of Hamilton and neighbours the Haudenosaunee community of Six Nations of the Grand River, which has the largest on-reserve population of any First Nation in the country.

"The years of abuse inflicted on the Indigenous community and their resulting pain must be recognized by all of our society and is recognized by the court. However, that pain cannot be used as a battle cry that can only lead to division, hate and future violence," wrote Harper.

"Skyler Williams and others chose to start this process of illegal activities by resorting to self-help and violence. His declaration: 'I think it's time for land back occupation' has been followed by exactly that."

Williams said the developer and the municipality should be seeking the money from the federal and provincial governments, whose decades of inaction on resolving Six Nations land grievances led to the reclamation.

"These are the people that they need to be going after," said Willams.

"You can't get blood from a stone…. I certainly don't have those dollars."

Six Nations members took over Foxgate's McKenzie Meadows development in July, saying it was on land that was taken from Six Nations in the mid-1800s. The land is part of two claims previously filed by Six Nations against Ottawa seeking compensation — ranging from the billions to the trillions of dollars — for the illegal alienation of their territory.

Camp members have dug trenches into two roads and a highway to block access to 1492 Land Back Lane. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Those claims are currently before the Ontario Superior Court, but the case is expected to take years to resolve.

The lands are part of the Haldimand Tract granted to Six Nations in the 18th century for allying with the British during the American Revolution. It encompassed 10 kilometres on each side of the 280-kilometre long Grand River.

After a previous administration rejected the development of the McKenzie Meadows lands in 2013, the Six Nations elected council signed an agreement with Foxgate Development in May 2019 to support the project in exchange for $352,000 and 17 hectares of land.

Judge declares Williams 'leader' of camp

Williams, who is the designated spokesperson for the reclamation camp, dubbed 1492 Land Back Lane, was added to the injunction applications as a result of his role as the public face of the movement. The developer also has a $20 million claim against Williams.

Harper stated in the ruling that he found Williams to be the "leader" of the reclamation, based on his numerous social media posts and videos published since the start of the land reclamation movement in mid-July. During court proceedings, Williams repeatedly denied he was the leader of 1492 Land Back Lane, which operates as a collective and makes decisions through meetings.

The judge also struck all filings from Williams submitted with the court in his defence, including a notice of a constitutional question which was also served on Ottawa and Ontario.

After Harper granted the permanent injunction against 1492 Land Back Lane and against road blockades in any part of Haldimand County on Oct. 22, a clash ensued between Ontario Provincial Police and Six Nations members. Now, blockades fortified by trenches dug into two roads and a highway block four points of access to 1492 Land Back Lane.


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him