Brantford city council voted on Monday to stop paying for heat, hydro and water service at Kanata Village, a city-owned property at 440 Mohawk St. currently occupied by a group known as the Mohawk Workers.
Since 2007 – when the Mohawk Workers first occupied the site – the city has paid almost $50,000 for utilities at the former native education and cultural centre. Council’s decision opens the door for utility companies to cut off service for non-payment.
The building has no sprinkler system, which means water can be cut off without issue, said Dwayne Armstrong, Brantford’s chief fire prevention officer. But as long as Kanata Village is occupied, exit signs and emergency lighting must remain illuminated to adhere to the Ontario Fire Code.
Whether the city as property owners or the Mohawk Workers as occupants take legal responsibility for keeping the exit signs lit would be the decision of the fire chief, Armstrong said.
The issue was before city council after being raised by Coun. Richard Carpenter at committee of the whole last week.
“If any one of our taxpayers can’t pay their hydro or water bills, we have no hesitation in cutting them off,” Carpenter said. “It’s time this council stood up…and stopped paying the bills of illegal occupiers.”
The city has already suffered financial loss and missed development opportunities because of land claims occupations, said Coun. Dan McCreary. He said the Mohawk Workers rejected the chance to work out a payment plan with the city.
“We simply can’t afford to pay the way for these people and we can’t afford trespass on our property,” McCreary said.
A delegation from the Mohawk Workers told council that their group is not trespassing because Kanata Village is situated on land which it says belongs to Mohawk Nation according to the Haldimand Proclamation.
“Impostors and other unauthorized parties have persisted in engaging in unauthorized dealings pertaining to our people and our territorial homeland for many years,” said spokesperson Jason Bowman. “Indeed, these belligerent acts continue to plague our people to this day.”
The Mohawk Nation has the right to “assert and maintain” its territorial integrity, Bowman said, which means being granted a role in decision-making.
“Your objectionable policy of willingly and knowingly excluding known chiefs and the Mohawk Workers from negotiations, decisions and such relevant matters must cease,” Bowman said.
When asked by Carpenter if that meant the Mohawk Workers wished to be consulted on every decision of council, Bowman replied: “Pertaining to territory within the Haldimand Tract, you’d better believe it.”
The Mohawk Workers have sent the city an invoice for $250 billion, plus interest, seeking compensation for what they claim is unlawful use of Mohawk territory.
“I think we can pay our bills if Brantford pays theirs,” said spokesperson Bill Squire.
Mayor Chris Friel said the Mohawk Workers have no formal connection to either the Six Nations Confederacy council or Six Nations elected band council and are not a part of land claims negotiations.
The mayor laughed off the Mohawk Workers’ invoice.
“I think that some of this (presentation) is bordering on ridiculous,” Friel told councillors after Bowman and Squire had left council chambers. “I really would have preferred not to have this done through council.”
Friel said he would rather have had utility companies take the lead on resolving the issue of non-payment.
“There were lots of people delaying on this for many years, which caused the money not to be paid (by the Mohawk Workers),” said Coun. David Neumann, who attempted to defer the issue until staff provided background information and looked into the legality of cutting off services to a city-owned building.
Neumann’s motion was defeated on a tie.
Bowman and Squire say that the city has been less than responsive to overtures from the Mohawk Workers to resolve the issue.
“They don’t want to hear from the people involved because they don’t like what they’re going to hear,” Squire said.