With the Couchiching toll booth now in place, many people are facing the experience of a daily commute through the site—and a decision as to whether or not they will pay the $1 toll.
Those working at the toll booth have been courteous, noted one Reef Point resident, although going through it feels like “being in a zoo” with everyone watching from along the side of the highway.
“I think it’s kind of a dangerous set-up,” the man said. “I don’t like the way it’s being done but other than that, they’re not forcing you to pay, it’s optional.
“Other than slowing the traffic down a bit, it’s fine,” he added, reiterating that those who have been working at the toll booth have been very courteous and he has been the same back to them in return—despite not paying the toll.
“My feelings are is that I don’t think they [the band] should include us,” he explained. “[Including us is] not going to help them resolve their situation.
“They’re just making it hard for us.”
The man is “very much so” hoping the situation will be resolved, adding “that would be a godsend if they figured to do that.”
Another resident of Rocky Inlet Road said she is surprised the toll booth went up since she hoped an agreement between Couchiching and the federal and provincial governments would have been made beforehand.
“Each time that we’ve [crossed], we’ve just handed over our loonie, and they’ve been very polite and said thank you for that,” she said.
But after five trips and $10, she admitted she is upset and worried the toll booth will become a permanent fixture on the highway.
The woman has decided she no longer will pay the toll, like other friends she has spoken to, although she added that having friends on Couchiching, she respects where the band members are coming from and are sympathetic to what has been happening—which is why she had paid the toll to begin with.
“I think the most important thing is that cooler heads prevail and that in the law, that they come to some agreement that’s going to work for everybody, that’s fair to everyone,” she stressed.
“And fair’s important, too, because they have to realize that there are limits to what can be demanded, too.
“I really wish they could in some lawful manner, within the law, get together and settle this,” she continued.
“I am upset, and I think most of my friends and people out here [are, too],” she noted encouraging the Couchiching chief and council to sit down and negotiation a settlement with government.
“It is harassment for the general public, and I think most people are feeling bullied by it,” echoed Scott Stafford, a local logging truck operator who crosses the Noden Causeway about four times a day and 20 times a week.
“I know for sure if my wife was to drive through there, that she would really feel intimidated by it.
“Like, I don’t think she would feel that she had enough strength or whatever to refuse paying the toll.”
Although he stops each time at the toll booth, Stafford said he has refused to pay so far.
“[It’s] just on a matter of principle,” he explained. “I don’t believe I should be paying twice to drive on a provincial highway when I’ve already licensed my commercial vehicle to use that highway.”
Stafford noted this principle is the same even after the band’s reduction of the commercial vehicle toll from $10 to $1 per crossing.
“I would just like the word spread to everybody that I’m passing through unhindered without having to pay,” he said, adding he wishes the band would be more upfront with the fact that they aren’t going to force people to pay.
After passing through without paying the toll, Stafford admitted he has received a threatening anonymous phone call, which the OPP currently is investigating.
But he still will be going through the toll booth without paying.
“If I’m asked to pay $40 a day to do my [job], in my line of work, $40 a day is far more than what it costs to even feed my family,” Stafford argued.
“I’m a 32-year-old self-employed father of four, with a brand new mortgage—we’ve just moved to the outskirts of Fort Frances to get closer to work, and now I see this as another obstacle that I have to deal with to support my family.
“I was hoping that reason would prevail,” he said about his reaction when the toll booth first was announced.
“I don’t see any benefit in the First Nations using the general public as fodder in their argument with the government.
“I don’t see where they feel that that will gain anything as far as a neighbour relationship goes—to use your neighbour as fodder in your argument doesn’t seem right to me,” he remarked.