Ottawa Citizen

Cottager disputes aboriginal land claim

Summervill­e Lake road access dispute results in confrontat­ion, charges

- BY JEAN-FRANÇOIS BERTRAND

A cottage-country dispute over newly claimed “aboriginal land” that ended in gunfire is heading to a Quebec court.

Mario Perrault, 49, was charged in Campbell’s Bay on June 2 with uttering threats to destroy real property, two counts of pointing a firearm, possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes and assault with a weapon. Sgt. Mélanie Larouche of Sûreté du Québec said further charges could be laid.

The charges follow a May 29 confrontat­ion with Joe Erlichman, owner of a cottage on Summervill­e Lake, 40 kilometres north of Pembroke.

The cottage is surrounded by land leased from the province by Pontiac Lodge, a fishing and hunting outfitter with roots dating to the late 19th century.

Mr. Erlichman, a New York State resident, said he arrived at the vacation home with a friend for the first time this year and found that an outside staircase had been torn off.

Later, a man knocked on the door and introduced himself as the co-owner of the Pontiac Lodge, said Mr. Erlichman, a biology and neuroscien­ce professor at St. Lawrence University.

“He said he was now starting to charge for the use of the road, $60 per person, because it was ‘aboriginal land.” I said no, since it’s a provincial road.”

The Pontiac Lodge was a private game reserve until the Parti Québécois government cancelled exclusive hunting rights in 1978. Its caretakers, the Sullivan family, bought the lodge and all but two surroundin­g cabins — of which one was later demolished and the other remains in the possession of Mr. Erlichman.

The Confederat­ion of Aboriginal People, a Quebec-based group formed in 2006, recently bought half of the outfitting operation.

Mr. Erlichman said a bulldozer owned by the lodge approached his cabin after the man told him he would “cable the cottage” if the American didn’t pay.

“There was a scuffle, which I did not want to see escalate because we were a long way from anybody else,” he said. The closest dwelling with electricit­y is 30 kilometres away, and the closest hamlet with a store is Chichester, just north of Ile-Aux-Allumettes.

In a subsequent confrontat­ion, Mr. Erlichman said he was standing on one of the tracks of the bulldozer to prevent it from being operated when a man with a handgun fired shots into the air and then pointed the gun at his chest.

“I grabbed the barrel, and when he pulled it out, the iron sight cut my hand” he said.

Mr. Erlichman said he received a phone call at the lodge that night from Guillaume (Billy) Carle, head of the Confederat­ion of Aboriginal People and was told: “This is aboriginal land; by law we have the right to charge for its use.”

The closest reserve is 60 kilometres to the south, near Golden Lake, Ont.

In an interview, Mr. Carle said his group intends to launch a land claim for all unorganize­d territory in the Pontiac region.

He said he explained to the cottage owner that the lodge paid for the upkeep of the road and cleared it of snow in the winter, and that Mr. Erlichman would have to pay his share.

Catherine Rooney, spokeswoma­n for Quebec’s Natural Resources Department, said the access to the road is reserved for the outfitter who leases the land from the province. However, that lease clearly states that free access, by car and by foot, must be provided to the cottager who also holds a lease.

Mr. Erlichman said from New York that he may not return to his cottage for a while because “it's a little hot to get there now.”

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