Defuse tension

Fortunately, it has remained peaceful so far at the toll booth Couchiching First Nation put up on Highway #11 just west of the Noden Causeway late Friday afternoon. It’s obvious, however, that the longer it stays up, the more likely that calm will deteriorate—and quickly.
Already those who may have been sympathetic to the band’s reasons for the toll booth are growing annoyed five days into the standoff, particularly those who have to use the highway daily for work or to get between their homes and town. The band, meanwhile, faced with more and more motorists who are refusing to pay, now is threatening to invoke a section of the Indian Act that will allow it to charge those who ignore the toll with trespassing.
Clearly, the tension is ratcheting up, which doesn’t bode well for a quick and amicable resolution to this potential crisis.
The toll booth is illegal, as evidenced by the OPP serving notice some two hours after it went up that criminal charges may result from the band’s actions, ranging from obstructing police to causing a disturbance, mischief, and intimidation. The only question now is when police will be given the green light to enforce the law.
That, in turn, will depend on what happens at the site and behind the scenes.
The toll booth has accomplished one goal: to grab the attention of Ottawa and Queen’s Park to the band’s issues, with meetings planned for tomorrow (May 27) with both the provincial minister of aboriginal affairs and the regional director of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). Meanwhile, federal Indian Affairs minister Chuck Strahl is said to have committed to meet with the band council in the “very near future.”
The feds and province have shown their willingness to sit at the table. What’s needed now is for the band to voluntarily remove its toll booth so negotiations can proceed in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect while heeding the law.
It’s time to defuse the situation before it has a chance to spiral out of control.