Ontario heading to mediation for allegedly breaching Aboriginal rights through iGaming launch

Claims include deal violations, malicious negotiations, and not consulting with Indigenous chiefs

Ontario heading to mediation for allegedly breaching Aboriginal rights through iGaming launch
Kelly LaRocca is chief of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation

The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) is heading to mediation with Ontario to settle concerns that the province’s online gambling scheme breached an agreement and violated s.35 of the Constitution that affirms and recognizes aboriginal rights by failing to hold formal consultations with Indigenous leaders.

MSIFN is challenging the government’s decision to open new gaming facilities near the Great Blue Heron Casino. “For centuries, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) have lived on the shores of Lake Scugog, North of what is now Port Perry. Thanks in large part to the success of the Great Blue Heron (GBH) casino, MSIFN is widely considered a model of a successful First Nation government in Canada.” the news release states.

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,” and that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) had previously lost a major claim filed by a group of First Nations.

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

Law Times previously reported that on Jan. 29, the provincial government announced that private gaming operators registered with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and have an operating agreement with AGCO’s subsidiary, iGaming Ontario, could begin offering their games to players across the province starting Apr. 4. However, LaRocca said the announcement was “a slap in the face of First Nations and reduced their promises of reconciliation to a joke.”

“The Ford government has recklessly ignored our concerns and has not offered any strategies to address the impact that their inadequate plan will have on our First Nation, our culture and our ability to provide services to our community,” LaRocca said.

She said the former Liberal provincial government committed with MSIFN to limit the number of casinos in the Durham region and not operate any new casino in the GTA nearby MSIFN’s Great Blue Heron Casino. However, Premier Doug Ford passed new regulations when he came into power in 2018—for example, allowing the Pickering Casino Resort to operate 50 kilometres away from GBH.

The MSIFN has alleged that launching the online gaming market, according to gaming experts, will devastate their economy, set back decades of community development efforts and place more than 2,500 well-paying jobs at risk.

Cameron Macdonald, a partner and co-chair of the national sports and gaming law practice group at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, previously informed Law Times that the new legal regime would boost capital market activity and consumer engagement.

“It will drive revenue into the province’s coffers to help it get out of the pandemic funk,” Macdonald said.

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