The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) is heading to mediation with Ontario to settle concerns that the Canadian province’s online gaming scheme breached an agreement and violated s.35 of the Constitution, which affirms and recognizes aboriginal rights, by failing to hold formal consultations with Indigenous leaders. MSIFN is currently 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 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 casino, MSIFN is widely considered a model of a successful First Nation government in Canada,” the Nation stated in an official press release.
The tribe claims to have 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, reports Law Times.
MSIFN chief Kelly LaRocca commented: “We respect the mediation process and are eager to achieve a fair agreement with the government. Our Council looks forward to addressing these longstanding issues in a fair and prompt way”.
MSIFN chief Kelly LaRocca
The provincial government had previously announced that private gaming operators registered with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and with an operating agreement with its iGaming Ontario subsidiary could begin offering their games to players across the province starting April 4. The move was labeled by LaRocca as “a slap in the face of First Nations” and “reduced their promises of reconciliation to a joke,” as reported by Law Times.
“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 further said.
The MSIFN further claimed the former Liberal province government committed with the tribe to limit the number of casinos in the Durham region and to not operate any new casino in the GTA nearby the Great Blue Heron Casino. However, Premier Doug Ford passed new regulations when he came into power in 2018, such as allowing the Pickering Casino Resort to operate 50kms away from GBH.
The MSIFN has alleged that launching the online gaming market, citing some gaming experts, will devastate their economy, set back decades of community development efforts and place more than 2,500 jobs at risk.
According to a report by Cameron Macdonald, a partner and co-chair of the national sports and gaming law practice group at Borden Ladner Gervais, 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”, he assured.