PERTH - The chief negotiator for the Algonquins of Ontario is hitting back at claims made at a recent meeting that private property will be handed over to the First Nations community.
Bob Potts, chief negotiator for the Algonquins of Ontario, speaking from his office at the Toronto law firm Blaney, McMurtry LLP, dismissed the claims as “categorically and inappropriately wrong… There is no attempt to expropriate people’s private property. They seem to be presenting this false perception. I don’t know why they would say that. It bothers me that some are trying to pervert it… Fear mongering is so easy when people don’t have knowledge.”
Potts’ remarks come in the wake of a public meeting on the land claim that was jointly sponsored by the Ontario Federation of Angles and Hunters (OFAH), Federation of Ontario Cottagers Associations (FOCA), and the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association (CSIA), held at the Perth Royal Canadian Legion hall on Friday, Feb. 22.
Potts, who has been working on the negotiations since 2003, said that he had met with representatives of all three organizations and was perplexed as to why they would be spreading such information.
“That is unfortunate,” he said of the information being presented, such as comments that the agreement-in-principle, released in December of 2012, was essentially a done deal, and that private property would be handed over to the Algonquin people. “I emphasize the word draft,” he said, of the agreement.
He noted that some of the concerns and questions posed by the three groups have already found their way into treaty documents.
“It really is quite unprecedented to have an agreement-in-principle in a treaty,” he said. “What a lot of people seem to be forgetting is that even when it is voted on,” in an Algonquin referendum, and at Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill, “there is a host of meetings that will be required to get us to the final agreement.”
One such example of the logistical headaches yet to be ironed out are snowmobile trails.
“There are snowmobile trails that cross those properties,” said Potts. It will take hard work, but he said he intends to negotiate in good faith.
He stressed that the three above organizations, as well as others, would be consulted throughout.
“It is not a done deal,” he said. “We’re not going to tell people to vacate,” adding that they don’t have the “money or resources to consider such a thing,” even if it were on the table.
While the three groups chided both levels of government for not being open and transparent about the process, Potts stressed that the negotiations thus far “had to be confidential. This is the best we could come up with.”
After many years of negotiations, in an area with more than a million people, thousands of acres of land, Algoquin Park and the city of Ottawa at play, “I make no bones about it. It is one of the most complicated (treaties) in Canada. (And) there is only so much land in this region,” that can be considered.
He stressed that while lawyers and bureaucrats from Ottawa and Toronto are involved in this process, the Algonquins do not want to create any hardships for their neighbours.
“They will not try to cause ruptures with their neighbours,” said Potts. “It’s going to take discussion,” as well as accommodation.
“You’ve got to be respectful,” said Potts. “People are not construing it fairly if they say it is a done deal.”