The spokesperson for Indigenous land defenders occupying a planned Caledonia subdivision spent about 30 minutes inside a police station on Wednesday after turning himself in at the Cayuga OPP detachment.
Skyler Williams, who had a warrant out for his arrest, faces six charges connected to the ongoing occupation of the McKenzie housing development, also known as 1492 Land Back Lane.
Williams was released on condition that he not return to the McKenzie site.
Outside the station, Williams said he plans to continue advocating for Haudenosaunee land rights along the Grand River.
“I’m certainly not giving up or giving in. The fight still goes on,” he told The Spectator.
“Every waking hour of my life for the last 10 months has been Land Back Lane. I need to be able to spend some time with my kids and leave the reserve without having to look over my shoulder.”
Through his lawyer, Williams made prior arrangements with the OPP to be processed and released Wednesday morning. Several dozen supporters gathered outside the station and cheered when he emerged.
Williams confirmed he surrendered voluntarily, not as part of a deal with the police or prosecutors.
“With the warrant over my head for these last 10 months, (surrendering) was something to move things along so there wasn’t going to be any kind of incident that happened when they tried to enforce that warrant,” he said, adding that he will continue in his role as the public face of the occupation.
For Williams, spending more than 300 days blocking the development of what land defenders contend is unceded Haudenosaunee territory has meant lost income and missed time at home with his wife and four children.
“I’m a father,” he said. “I need to be able to take care of my kids.”
Williams, who was arrested Aug. 5 when the OPP briefly cleared the occupied site, faces two counts each of mischief and disobeying a court order, one intimidation charge, and a charge for breaching his original release conditions.
“I’m certainly going to be pleading not guilty,” he said.
None of the charges have been tested in court.
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt, who publicly called for Williams to be arrested, said his quick release was “consistent” with how others charged in connection to the occupation have been dealt with.
“Unfortunately, that precedent has been set,” Hewitt said.
“But we hope that when his day in court comes, as with the rest of them, they’re charged with the activities that occurred that are unlawful — just as anybody else would be, regardless of who you are.”
Hewitt said the court’s lenient approach disregards the time and expense taken by Foxgate Developments to secure the injunctions that legally bar the occupiers from the site.
“Only to find taxpayers spending the money for the OPP to go out and police these issues, arrest these individuals and get them in front of judges who just slap them on the wrist and send them back,” Hewitt said.
“In my opinion, the problem’s not on the ground. The problem is our justice system.”
As for whether he would honour the release condition to stay away from the occupied site at 1535 McKenzie Rd., Williams fought to hold back a grin.
“Does 1535 McKenzie Road exist anymore? Last I heard it was 1492 Land Back Lane,” he said.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator