Friends of John Harmon will be in Federal Court in Moncton June 4 trying to prevent the immediate deportation of the 74 year old Kent County man struggling to remain in the community he has called home for almost 10 years.
The case highlights both Canada’s failure to honor Aboriginal treaty rights and a deal gone sour, which some suspect is the real reason for the sudden attempt to rush Harmon out of the country.
Harmon is Aboriginal and a war veteran who has lived a simple life raising poultry and a few pigs on land in the Adamsville area of Kent County. His friends, led by justice advocate Wilhelmina Nolan, say Harmon has been victimized by both the RCMP and the federal government, which is ignoring his rights under Article 3 of the 1794 Jay Treaty.
It only took one visit from two Richibucto RCMP constables to tear Harmon’s life apart. On the morning of April 8, the RCMP officers showed up at Harmon’s home and, without any explanation, told him he had to leave immediately. After forcing Harmon from his home, the RCMP held him without charge for a time before eventually agreeing to let him go to the home of friend, Andy Hébert.
To date, the RCMP has not explained the legal basis for its decision to remove Harmon from his home without an eviction order, who ordered the constables to remove Harmon from his home, or the reasons for taking him into custody without charge at that time. Soon after agreeing to let Harmon go with Hébert, the RCMP called Harmon on his cell phone and asked him to come and meet them so they could arrest him on an immigration charge.
Once again, Harmon co-operated fully with the police and he was placed in the Richbucto jail. This time, the RCMP jailed Harmon solely on the basis of an allegation by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) that Harmon has no legal right to be in Canada despite the fact that, for more than two centuries, Aboriginal Peoples have been guaranteed the right to travel between the United States and Canada.
Article III of the 1794 Jay Treaty provided free border-crossing rights for United States citizens, British subjects, and “the Indians dwelling on either side of the boundary line.” As well, in signing the Treaty of Ghent in 1815 after the war of 1812, Britain and the United States promised to restore the rights of the Indian Nations that had existed before the war.
Harmon is a member of the (American) Lenni Lenape Nation, but some of the papers proving his identity are among the personal effects in his home which have never been returned to him. Residents of Adamsville attending a community meeting May 19 were shocked to learn that the RCMP, as well as evicting Harmon without an eviction order and holding him for a time without charge, has also refused to investigate Harmon’s complaint that his personal property has been stolen.
Today Harmon is destitute and homeless. He has never been allowed to reclaim his personal papers, truck and tractor, livestock, or even his clothing. The only item returned to Harmon–after pleading by Nolan–has been his hernia belt.
The loss of Harmon’s personal property stems from the fact that while he was being held by the RCMP without charge on April 8, another Adamsville area man, Martin Desrosiers, took possession of the land, and everything on that land as well.
Desrosiers purchased the land Harmon had been living on from Elsipogtog resident Terresa Peters. He believes she was the rightful owner of the land, and he has a bill of sale to back up his claim. But Harmon says he is the rightful owner of the land because he bought it from Peters with a series of cheques written over a four year period that ended in 2011.
Although Harmon still has the cancelled cheques he gave to Peters, he does not have a bill of sale. Four years after believing he had finished paying for the land, Harmon was stunned to learn the land he thought he had purchased from Peters had been sold out from under him.
Harmon is bewildered by his treatment from police, the stripping away of his personal property while he was being held in jail, and the sudden rush by the CBSA to bundle him quickly out of the country after a decade of its apparent unconcern. Adamsville residents at the community meeting wanted to know who ordered the RCMP to remove Harmon summarily from his home on April 8. Similarly, they question why the police have so far refused to act on the reported theft of Harmon’s property.
Their immediate priority, however, is preparing their application for a judicial review of the case. Nolan has also been in touch with American State Department officials at the United States Consulate in Halifax. Unlike Canada, the United States accepts their obligations under the Jay Treaty and does not interfere with Aboriginals exercising their rights under that treaty to travel freely between the two countries.
Nolan also says she is considering a formal complaint to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) against the RCMP. The CRCC is currently investigating RCMP conduct in the forceful suppression of peaceful protests against shale gas by concerned residents of Kent County in 2013.
Now, years after establishing his home in Kent County, and still reeling from seeing everything he had taken away, a penniless Harmon must defend himself against the a federal government determined to deport him. At the same time, he is trying to recover the land and property he believes is rightfully his. It is the relationship between the two disputes that has many Adamsville residents crying foul.
The land both Harmon and Desrosiers say they purchased from Peters is now occupied by Desrosiers. Since he believes he bought the land and its contents from Peters, he has so far refused Harmon’s requests to return to reclaim his personal effects. It would seem that by removing Harmon from his home on April 8, the RCMP, unwittingly or not, enabled Desosiers to move in and occupy the land without being delayed by a legal action to evict Harmon.
Although trained as a lawyer, Peter Dauphinee does not practice in New Brunswick. In a May 1 letter to the Richibucto RCMP constables who evicted Harmon from his home, Dauphinee asks for an explanation of their actions.
“It is quite contrary to my understanding of the role of the police in a free and democratic society to intervene in a property dispute by arresting one of the parties,” Dauphinee’s letter says. He then asks “under what authority John [Harmon] was told that he had to leave his home and farm, where he had lived and supported himself lawfully since 2008?”
“I am also troubled that you appear to have taken these steps solely on the word of the complainant without any investigation of the facts at all,” the Dauphinee letter says. “John’s neighbour, Martin Desrosiers, initiated the dispute, purporting to purchase John’s property while being well aware that John had a legitimate claim to his land.”
While Harmon had consulted a lawyer, Dauphinee’s letter points out that he “was prevented from accessing legal assistance by your precipitate actions” and says that “it appears that several presumptions have been made by you to John’s detriment, and in breach of his rights.”
Dauphinee is not the only one who wants answers to questions about how an elderly Aboriginal who built a life for himself near Adamsville could be stripped of all of his personal property, and lose possession of the land he claims to own, while being held in jail without charge. The people of Adamsville want answers too, but first they need to ensure Harmon will not be deported before he is allowed even to attempt to recover what has been taken from him.
Like Dauphinee, area residents are hoping the application for a judicial review of Harmon’s case on June 4 in Moncton will force the authorities to respect Harmon’s full legal and human rights, and show justice being done. The Harmon case is also teaching people that the ‘law’ and ‘justice’ are not necessarily synonymous.
Dallas McQuarrie is a news writer for the NB Media Co-op and a former CBC journalist.