Grand River in Cambridge, Ontario. (Image: Peter J. Restivo/Creative Commons).
Grand River in Cambridge, Ontario. (Image: Peter J. Restivo/Creative Commons).

Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council (SNGREC) and Blair Engaged Residents Association Inc. have come together to challenge development of a 2.2 million square foot Amazon Warehouse Distribution Facility in the heart of the Haldimand Tract near the Grand River in Cambridge, Ontario.

Six Nations of the Grand Rivers’ Aboriginal and Treaty Rights throughout Southern Ontario have been well documented through archaeological findings, historical facts and written Treaty Agreements. These unceded lands were granted to the Haudenosaunee in compensation for their allegiance to the British Crown and military service during the American Revolution. The Haldimand Tract, recognized in past court proceedings, is currently part of the ongoing litigation between Six Nations of the Grand River, the province and the federal Crowns.

Yet, on August 27, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark issued a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) for 140 Old Mill Road in the Village of Blair, Ontario. The MZO was requested by Mayor Kathryn McGarry on behalf of the Broccolini Real Estate Group. It was issued despite the fact that the City of Cambridge failed to consult with First Nations and local residents.

In their report to Cambridge City Council under Mayor Kathryn McGarry in April 2021, Cambridge staff advised residents and Council that Broccolini had indicated that the MZO was needed to avoid “having to proceed through normal planning applications and public consultation process.”

City of Cambridge planning department staff refused to meet with Six Nations Elected Council’s Consultation and Accommodation Process (CAP) team unless the ministry was present. No meeting with the city ever took place.

The CAP team was able to secure a meeting with Broccolini, however this meeting did not come close to meeting the standards of proper consultation, which requires respectful dialogue, information disclosure, transparency and complete answers.

“We asked many questions about the proposed project. The answers we received were very vague, in some cases misleading and not helpful in allaying our concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed project,” observed Lonny Bomberry, director of lands and resources for the CAP team.

He went on to state: “Minister Clark used his power to grant an MZO in a manner inconsistent with the honour of the Crown.”

David Donnelly, counsel to Blair Engaged said:

“The law concerning the Crown’s duty to consult is very clear and appears to have been violated when Council rejected Minister Clark’s request that everyone, including First Nations, be consulted.”

“A judicial review of the Minister’s MZO would be consistent with the recent legal action in Simcoe County, where the Minister allegedly failed to consult First Nations before issuing an MZO,” Donnelly added.

The Haldimand Tract is located within the most highly urbanized land in Canada. Almost all of the development taking place on Six Nations traditional territory proceeded without consultation with, or the informed consent of, the Nation.

This intense development has caused significant environmental degradation and severely impacted Six Nations’ ability to exercise their Aboriginal and Treaty Rights as defined in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

“Mayor McGarry and Cambridge City Council failed to consult First Nations there-by creating Council’s failure to ensure that a proper and constitutionally guaranteed duty to consult and accommodate was completed,” stated Alan Van Norman, co-chair of Blair Engaged.

“Mayor McGarry’s reading of the declaration of a land acknowledgement before each Council meeting is hypocritical, McGarry’s words are ‘hollow’, and her failure to ensure proper consultation speak to her true values regarding Truth & Reconciliation,” added Van Norman.

Imposing the MZO means an environmental assessment does not need to be undertaken. The construction of the roughly 1-million square foot building with an additional 1.2 million square feet of asphalt paving can proceed without considering the impacts on the air, land, water, wildlife and surrounding communities. Without this information SNGREC and Blair residents cannot give informed consent nor can they challenge the construction of the warehouse fulfillment centre or the increased traffic, noise and air pollution resulting from the truck traffic that will ensue.

“Mayor McGarry rushed this developer’s proposal through Council for no obvious reason and the community now learns that the Consultation and Accommodation Process team at Six Nations Elected Council is also frustrated with the lack of credible answers to their questions, said Mary McGrath, Blair resident. “The only fair and just solution at this stage is for Council to request that Minister Steve Clark rescind the MZO and re-start the application in accordance with the guidelines of the Planning Act of Ontario.”

Efforts made to contact Amazon have not yielded a response.