The elected leaders of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake stood alongside Highway 30 in 2015 to announce a boycott of business in Chateauguay and their collective intention to go ahead with any economic development on returned land despite a lawsuit headed by the neighbouring municipality’s mayor, Nathalie Simon. (Sarah Dimmock, The Eastern Door)
Quebec attorney general Samuel Chayer broke down the government’s defence of its May 15, 2013 decree to return five parcels of land along Highway 30 to Kahnawake to compensate for the road’s construction, which runs straight through the Seigneury of Sault St. Louis.
“It’s a valid decree, there’s no reason to quash it,” he told The Eastern Door after a lengthy closing argument Wednesday. “For the government of Quebec, the decree is a valid exercise of its power, and we did not have to consult with the municipalities before taking the decree. Essentially, that’s the hard core of my argument.”
The decree, as has been reported for the past four years, caused Chateauguay, St. Isidore, Ste. Catherine and St. Constant to file a lawsuit against Quebec that went to court May 1 and wrapped up Wednesday with closing arguments.
The two-week trial involved testimony and evidence from both parties, including former Mohawk Council of Kahnawake grand chief Mike Delisle, Mike O’Brien of the Labour Office, Peacekeeper and former council chief John Dee Delormier, and former Tewatohnhi’saktha CEO John “Bud” Morris.
MCK lawyers Jean Pommainville and Eric Doucet suggested through testimony and argument that multiple emails, calls and meetings with the surrounding municipalities, Kahnawake and the government of Quebec proves ample consultation.
The evidence, Chayer said, proves Quebec consulted in good faith.
“We didn’t have to, (but) we did,” he said.
The municipalities’ argument is two-fold.
“The first argument is that we feel in all this process, the province of Quebec had to engage itself with the municipalities towards Kahnawake to find at least an understanding of what was going on, a sense of the status of the land, the types of laws or rights that could be exercised on the land, economic compensation and so on prior to any decision,” said attorney Armand Poupart, lead counsel for the municipalities.
“The province of Quebec told the municipalities that it would compensate and find a way of living together, but we feel that they had to pass this decree as soon as possible, but they ignored the municipalities.”
Poupart added that the third point of Quebec’s decree was vague regarding a condition over jurisdiction in the parcels slated for return.
“On one hand, the land will remain inside the municipalities, so the municipality will have to zone the land, tax the land, and so on,” he said.
“On the other hand, Kahnawake can or will or could say that since it’s Indian land now, the municipality has no right on it, so there’s a conflict of law, and a conflict of jurisdiction… We feel it’s a limbo.”
Doucet explained that the section in question provides the blueprint for the parcels of land to become identical to the rest of Kahnawake once Canada accepts and transfers it to reserve status.
Poupart said the municipalities need to know what the tax rights will be on the land, and that the jurisdiction issue be clarified.
“I feel the land will be transferred, but will the municipalities have the right to tax the businesses on these lands? This is a big question,” said Poupart. “What we don’t want is to go to court every day, every year to find out who’s right or wrong on these topics.”
Pommainville delivered the closing argument from Kahnawake’s perspective and asked the judge Marie Anne Paquette to dismiss the municipalities’ case.
The surrounding municipalities, Pommainville argued, have already developed enterprises along Highway 30, while Kahnawake has been thwarted by the court case.
“Kahnawake has no land and is still waiting to be invited into the sandbox,” he said in court.
Pommainville highlighted the industrial parks and other economic enterprises already lining the highway that Kahnawake gains nothing from and was never consulted on.
“The cities argue that what’s going on is unfair,” Pommainville said in his closing. “That’s incredibly ironic.”
Morris testified that Kahnawake’s economic development along the 30 was crucial to it becoming more self-sufficient and dealing with some of its social issues, and Pommainville also repeatedly mentioned that the land was promised by the crown and the honour of the crown depended on it being delivered.
He added that four months after the highway was completed the municipalities walked away from the table and were not interested in working with Kahnawake. He closed by saying it was a shame and a tragedy that the municipalities challenged the decree that Quebec delivered in good faith.
Poupart said he regrets that the municipalities have been painted in a negative light because of the case.
“What is sad for the municipalities is that we feel we played the bad role in this,” he told The Eastern Door. “We feel that Kahnawake looks at us as wrongdoers, which is completely the opposite of it. We have nothing against them. On the contrary, we understand everything. The thing is Quebec didn’t do the job for us.”
He added that the hope is that all governments in the region can work together moving forward.
“It doesn’t mean that we can’t still, and we will still, live together with Kahnawake, and do business together and grow together, which is our first and foremost will,” said Poupart.
Judge Paquette said Wednesday that she would try to deliver her ruling as soon as possible, and has a deadline of six months to render a decision.