Al Harrington woke up Wednesday afternoon to a rash of messages from friends who had seen his face pop up on TVA around lunchtime.
The topic of the report - and a corresponding article - was his weekend delivery of a non-binding eviction letter, signed “The Land Defenders of Kanesatake,” demanding that Les Jardins Vegibec vacate the land around Little Tree Gas by the spring.
The land is technically part of Oka and was sold to Vegibec president Pascal Lecault by community member Charles Lamouche in 2015, but the presence of a non-Indigenous industrial farming operation there has incensed Kanehsata’kehró:non for years.
Lecault, however, was not moved - he responded to the letter by launching a complaint with the Surete du Quebec (SQ), according to TVA.
The Eastern Door confirmed that the SQ is looking into the situation.
“We are aware of this situation right now,” said SQ spokesperson Nicolas Scholtus on Thursday morning. “We need to make some verifications in this file. We’ll see how it goes, but right now we’re not ready to make any comments about this investigation.”
Harrington has not heard from the police at the time of writing, and he said he is not concerned about any legal jeopardy.
“(Lecault) has all the right to speak with the SQ. I know I didn’t break any laws,” said Harrington. “Solicitors go to every door and they drop stuff off, so I know I didn’t break any law. I am one of the land defenders here in the community.”
Scholtus agreed that dropping off a letter in itself is not typically prohibited. “Generally, if you drop a letter in the mailbox, that will be fine. But it all depends on the situation. That is one reason why we’re doing the verification right now,” said Scholtus.
While Lecault has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Eastern Door, he dug in his heels in an interview with TVA, saying he will “never” leave and that he considers the letter a threat to his place of business.
The letter rejects the colonial law that dictates Lecault is the property’s rightful owner. “This land is part of the ancestral territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanesatake and is therefore subject to the Great Law of Peace, under the authority of which we are asserting title,” the letter reads.
It goes on to warn that if Lecault does not heed the notice, community members will take all available action to disrupt Vegibec’s commercial activity.
The mayor of Oka, Pascal Quevillon, characterized the eviction notice as a form of intimidation in an interview with The Eastern Door.
“This is really a file that must be settled with the federal government,” Quevillon said. “So to intimidate and threaten citizens who legally own land is just further dividing our communities because that's no way to move the case forward.”
He said he understands the frustration of Kanesatake community members when it comes to land claims but emphasized that it is a matter for Canada to resolve, not municipalities or even the province.
“We have citizens who have been here for several generations, too, so we have to respect them,” said Quevillon. “We weren't the ones who caused this problem…. Respect goes both ways. So, what happened with Vegibec and Al Harrington is a big lack of respect towards the citizens of Oka.”
He added his belief that Kanesatake needs to rein in Harrington, whose tactics he insisted are not helping the cause of advancing land claims. He even referred to Harrington’s actions as racist against white people who live on the territory in an interview with TVA, a claim Harrington rejects.
“That’s untrue. I’m not against white people in their properties here,” said Harrington, who clarified he is not trying to evict anyone living on the property.
“We are a little concerned that they put that ‘racist’ remark out there,” he added. “That could bring harm to our family.”
Despite the disagreement between Harrington and Quevillon, they share the belief that Canada is ultimately responsible for resolving land claims. Harrington previously said he believes the federal government should buy the land at issue.
Asked to comment on the presence of Vegibec on the territory and whether talks on this and other land claims have progressed, Randy Legault-Rankin, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), had this to say:
“There have been ongoing discussions between Kanesatake and (CIRNAC) about existing land grievances through the Specific Claims process regarding mainly the lands of the Pines, although not necessarily about the land owned by Les Jardins Vegibec. Canada is ready and open to negotiate an approach that will facilitate the transfer of lands back to Kanesatake. Working collaboratively to renew relationships is fundamental to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”
Harrington was not impressed with this statement when asked to comment, not only because it seems the Vegibec land is not part of the equation, but because it focuses on the Pines when Kanesatake’s ancestral territory is much larger.
“I think they need to come and have a meeting with the Longhouse along with its people. Band Council chiefs are welcome to attend. Land claims need to go beyond the Pines and they well know it,” said Harrington.
He elaborated on his feelings in a Facebook live video post. “If we want to talk about reconciliation, well let's talk about real reconciliation. That's (Kanesatake’s) territory,” he said.
“I have a responsibility as a warrior and as an Indigenous man for our people to stand up and protect our children's future. At any cost.”
As for objections to the Vegibec eviction notice, Harrington has no doubts about the path he has chosen to express the community’s ongoing resistance to the incursion of the industrial farm.
“I don’t have any regrets at all. I’m staying true to what I’m doing,” he said.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door