Article by Dale Carruthers, London Free Press
A group of men who stormed into the band office on a London-area Indigenous community and occupied it for five days say they ended the occupation Monday to allow services to the community to resume.
OPP raids on six illegal pot shops on the outskirts of the Oneida of the Thames First Nation on Thursday led to the occupation that uncovered a secret proposal to build a casino resort.
The occupation, which ended early Monday, also resulted in a privacy breach that Ontario’s former information and privacy commissioner said shows the need to better safeguard people’s personal information.
Several of the men involved in the occupation spoke Monday with the Free Press, expressing outrage at the band council who they say requested police to crack down on the pot shops.
“It’s not about pot shops, it’s not about money, it’s about a sovereign people being pushed around by outside forces,” said Tyler George, who identified himself as one of the men involved in the occupation. Police arrested six people during the raids at 6355 Carriage Rd., property in Middlesex Centre that Oneida bought more than two decades ago.
Oneida Chief Jessica Hill, who has denied asking the OPP to carry out the raids, said the occupation forced council to suspend all community services and programs, including its COVID-19 testing centre.
“They are young men who work at, or are related to the people who were raided, the cannabis businesses,” she said of the seven occupiers. “It was retaliation for the raid.”
Joel Abram, grand chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians that represents several London-region First Nations, described on Facebook how his vehicle was surrounded by several individuals when he arrived Thursday on Oneida after the raids. The individuals kicked and punched his vehicle and threatened him, Abram said.
George said his group never intended to intimidate anyone and only stood down out of concern for Oneida residents who were affected by cut-off services.
“We didn’t want to leave,” he said, noting the group came across the plans for the proposed casino development while occupying the office.
“Nobody would have known. The only reason we know is because there were papers on the desk,” he said.
George and others involved in the occupation are opposed to the development because it doesn’t have the full consent of the community and was made in secret, they say.
Hill said in a statement Sunday the First Nation didn’t release information about the proposed “resort entertainment destination development” because investors with which it is negotiating asked them to keep the information confidential.
The occupation means the band council can’t safeguard personal and financial information, including documents about land, wills and estates and day school applications, she said.
One leading privacy expert says the incident highlights the need to invest in systems to protect people’s confidential information.
“You need end-to-end security with full life-cycle protection, which they weren’t able to deliver,” Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former information and privacy commissioner, said of Oneida’s band council.