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Scugog Island First Nation, province head to mediation over alleged agreement breaches

MSIFN claims Ontario did not consult them over new Pickering casino.

PHOTO: Stock
The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) is heading to mediation with the province in an effort to settle its concerns that the Ontario government breached an agreement that limited the number of gaming halls in Durham.

The Scugog Island First Nation says the discussions will centre around “claims of agreement violations, bad faith negotiations and failures to provide consultation related to gaming.”

The MSIFN is “seeking relief” for the government’s decision to open new gaming facilities near the Great Blue Heron Casino without providing consultation. According to the MSIFN, the province is obligated to discuss the issue with the Scugog Island First Nation under Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act.

“Since meeting with senior government officials three years ago, we have welcomed the opportunity to settle our concerns with the province,” said MSIFN Chief Kelly LaRocca in a statement. “We see a glimmer of hope now that they have agreed to mediation.”

The Scugog Island First Nation said it “repeatedly warned the government about violations of negotiated agreements and previous commitments related to gaming in the Greater Toronto Area,” adding that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has previously lost a major claim filed by a consortium of First Nations.

“We respect the mediation process and are eager to achieve a fair agreement with the government,” added Chief LaRocca. “Our council looks forward to addressing these longstanding issues in a fair and prompt way.”

When the Pickering Casino Resort opened its doors to gambling enthusiasts on July 26, 2021, the MSIFN continued to voice their opposition to the rival gaming den that same day by claiming the province permitted the new casino to “operate in close proximity” to the Great Blue Heron Casino “in spite of previous agreements which limited the number of gaming facilities in Durham Region.”

In 2017, the province announced that a consortium of Canadian companies were chosen to operate and redevelop the Great Blue Heron casino, Ajax Downs race track and Woodbine in Toronto for the next 22 years.

During discussions leading up to that agreement amid the province’s new modernization strategy for gambling facilities in Ontario, the MSIFN initially balked at the changes, fearing additional casinos would saturate the market and “cannibalize” local revenues.

When that 2017 announcement was made, Chief LaRocca expressed concerns over “cannibalization” if there were to be redevelopment and expansion of a new gambling facility in either Ajax or Pickering, as well as the introduction of a massive new casino centre at Woodbine.

While those deals were signed under the former Liberal provincial government, the MSIFN claimed last July that Conservative Premier Doug Ford trampled on those agreements after sweeping to power in June 2018.

“Without any manner of notice to MSIFN, the Ford government passed regulations to allow the Pickering Casino Resort to operate in breach of the government’s commitments with MSIFN to not operate any new casino in the GTA within close proximity (to) MSIFN’s Great Blue Heron Casino,” said the statement.

The two casinos are located about 50 kilometres apart.

Added Chief LaRocca: “The Pickering casino’s opening is yet another glaring example of Premier Ford’s willingness to tread over signed agreements for political ends. This government has rewritten the Ontario gaming map to suit its own agenda.”

When questioned last July about the MSIFN’s allegations, the OLG said the agency “values its long-standing relationship with the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and we are always seeking to build on our shared success. We will be responding to MSIFN directly on these issues and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Chris Hall is a reporter covering Scugog Township for Metroland Media Group’s Durham Region Division.


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