The time has come to evict a group of residents squatting in a city-owned building known as Kanata Village, Coun. Richard Carpenter told city council on Monday.
The group, known as the Mohawk Workers, has been at 440 Mohawk St. since 2007. In that time, the city has provided heat, hydro, water and phone service to the building at no charge to those living there.
“The property’s been occupied illegally,” Carpenter said. “We haven’t done anything to evict the illegal occupiers. And we’re paying their…bills.”
According to Brantford Power records presented by Carpenter, the city has spent more than $25,000 on power, water and sewer service to the former interpretive and tourism centre since 2007.
In addition, the city has paid more than $13,000 to Union Gas since 2007 to heat the building. Before telephone service was cut off in January 2012, the city had paid more than $10,500 to Bell Canada for phone bills.
Bills for phone service reached a monthly high of $1,690 in December 2011.
“I guess when you have free telephone, you can call whoever you want,” Carpenter said.
That puts the total spent to support a group illegally occupying a public building at more than $49,400, an amount Mayor Chris Friel called “almost to the point of ridiculous.”
“I don’t know why we continue to allow a handful of individuals to continue to use this property,” Friel said.
Council asked staff to cut off services during a closed meeting in December 2010, Carpenter said. CAO Ted Salisbury confirmed that, to date, the city has not tried to collect the outstanding utility bills.
Carpenter said he would welcome an overture from the Mohawk Workers looking to pay the bills.
“But certainly the taxpayer shouldn’t be subsidizing these individuals,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Mohawk Workers said it is the city that is illegally occupying land that according to the Haldimand Proclamation belongs to the Kahniakehake Mohawk nation.
“It’s laughable – maybe laughable isn’t the right word, because it’s depraved,” Jason Bowman said during an interview at Kanata Village on Tuesday. “(The city) is squatting on the land. They’ve polluted and corrupted it.”
Bowman described Kanata Village as a “friendship centre” open to the public and featuring information displays about native history and culture, as well as a replica 17th-century native village on the grounds.
Someone is on site at all times, though it is unclear if anyone lives there permanently.
“It is disgusting that the city would try to make moves on people doing a service not just to the (native) community but the wider community,” Bowman said.
Who owns the land is the real issue, said Coun. Dan McCreary.
“We’ve danced around this long enough,” he said.
The Mohawk Nation may claim ancestral ownership, but “clearly, (Kanata) is a municipal asset,” McCreary said.
“It just boggles my mind (for the city) to say that we don’t have any rights to this place,” countered Mohawk Workers spokesperson Bill Squire. “I think that’s very shallow on their part.”
Asking the residents of Kanata Village to leave would “in no way” affect the city’s relationship with Six Nations, Friel said.
“We are not doing this to cause a rift between our communities,” Friel said. “We are dealing with a particular issue that has cost the municipality close to $50,000 over five years.”
The Mohawk Workers have no formal connection to either Six Nations elected council or the Six Nations Confederacy council, Friel said.
Carpenter told council that Six Nations Chief Bill Montour expressed surprise that the city was allowing the Mohawk Workers to occupy the building.
Bowman dismissed both Six Nations councils as lacking the authority to speak or negotiate on behalf of the Mohawk Nation, as the councils do not have treaty rights to the Haldimand Tract.
The Mohawk Workers are upset that city council appears to be “hiding” from the issue of native land claims and compensation owed to natives, which Bowman said totals $250 billion before interest.
“I’m not really interested in talking about $50,000 – it’s a waste of our time,” Bowman said. “We would like to know what the city council is planning to do about the $250 billion invoice.”
The fact that the residents of Kanata Village are native makes no difference to the city’s position, Carpenter said.
“This is not a matter of nationality,” he said. “They’re occupying a building and it’s got to stop.”
Well-known land claims activists Ruby and Floyd Montour attended Monday’s council meeting. Ruby Montour stood up during the debate and attempted to speak, but was quickly admonished by the mayor.
“Sit down, Ruby. You have no position,” Friel said.
“You don’t either,” she replied. “Is that how you want to work with us?”
Prior to Monday’s meeting, Friel e-mailed Carpenter asking him to withdraw the Kanata Village item from council’s agenda so the city would not become embroiled in a political spat with Mohawk Nation.
The mayor preferred to handle the matter through utility companies.
“There is never merit in creating confrontation when a peaceful solution is available,” Friel wrote.