(Suzanne Patles on Treaty Day in 2016 with her son. Patles received an eviction notice from her landlord in Eskasoni. Photo: Trina Roache/APTN)
APTN National News
An eviction notice for a well-known Mi’kmaq warrior has her raising questions around housing security for people who rent apartments on reserve.
Suzanne Patles, a key figure in the 2013 fracking protests near Elsipogtog, NB, is a band member of the Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia. She’s lived in the same apartment there for over 11 years, along with her partner and three sons.
On April 3, she received an eviction notice from her landlord telling her “effective immediately” she and her family had to “vacate the premises.”
She wasn’t told why.
“It’s disheartening. It hurts,” said Patles. “And it’s really stressing to deal with this type of situation of what to do and not knowing…what I am going to find for support and help.”
Reaching out to the band, to councillors and to her landlord hasn’t gotten her any answers.
“I seriously don’t want to leave my community. I love my community. I love my people,” said Patles. “I’m an indigenous woman who is being ostracized from my community because I have nowhere to go.”
Like so many reserves with long waiting lists for housing, Patles is now looking off-reserve. The closest apartments are in Sydney, NS, a city around 40 km away.
“One of my kids is in the immersion program; a program that is not offered anywhere else in the entire world. I can’t take my seven-year-old away from that, from his Mi’kmaq immersion program. It’s really important to me for him to receive that education,” said Patles. “My 13-year-old was like, ‘But all of my friends are here. Everything I know is here.’”
She’s left making some tough choices that will divide her family.
“Unfortunately I will have to leave my older kids with my siblings and I will have to relocate myself and just take my children on the weekends and in the summer,” she said.
Her landlord, Leonard Paul, told APTN in a phone interview, that Patles’ eviction was over noise complaints.
Patles acknowledges the noise complaint was made after a verbal argument with her partner, Germaine Breau.
“But nothing physical happened, no charges were made,” said Patles. “Those kinds of things happen, nobody’s life is perfect, nobody can get along 24-7 and tensions do rise.”
And she stresses that she wasn’t told why she was being evicted. Or given any warning.
“There should be a fair process. If there was a noise complaint then why didn’t he issue a written warning?” she said.
If Patles lived off-reserve, a landlord would have to give her 15 days’ notice. But the province’s Residential Tenancy Act doesn’t apply on-reserve. And there are no federal laws governing the rights of tenants and landlords.
“It’s a complete grey area of the law,” said Patles. “There is a severe gap there, and that’s a gap needs to be filled. Elected leadership needs to look into creating a BCR (Band Council Resolution) to implement these bylaws, so there would be proper steps taken. There needs to be steps. It’s unfortunate they tell you ‘OK you gotta go’ and then that’s it.”
Lawyer Alex Keenan works for an Indigenous Law Group in Ontario and after getting some questions about the issue wrote a blog to clarify what protections are there, or not, for landlords and tenants on reserve.
She said the rules can vary across the country, depending on whether an Indigenous person lives in a self-governing region like the Yukon, or in Mohawk territory which applies the controversial “marry out-move out” rule for members who marry someone who’s not Indigenous.
If bands themselves haven’t come up with a policy, people on reserve are left with few options to go to for help. Provinces have residential tenancy tribunals to resolve disputes. But not for people on reserve; whether it’s a landlord hoping to evict, or a tenant wanting to fight stay.
“There’s really no legal teeth in a lot of cases unless they’re willing to go to a superior court and bring a breach of contract case,” said Keenan. “It’s very much about a gap in the law. And it hurts tenants and it hurts landlords.”
Patles does remember signing a lease over 11 years ago, but nothing since. And landlord Leonard Paul, who owns 45 units in Eskasoni, said he doesn’t sign agreement with the tenants.
“I was talking to the band manager myself and he said, you’re the one, you makes up the rules. Tell her to get out or else,” said Paul. “It’s the landlord that makes the eviction notices.”
When asked why it was effective immediately, Paul said that’s how it works.
“Usually, I don’t give anybody that much time. But I’m glad I got rid of her,” he said
But when asked how often he evicts people he said it doesn’t happen often.
“Very seldom. With all my years, I think this is only the second person I evicted,” said Paul.
Patles doesn’t buy that.
“Most people won’t put up a fight. Our people are humble and will bow to authority. I’m not the type to just bow down to authority,” she said.
As for fighting the eviction in court, that takes money and resources Patles doesn’t have. She called Paul and asked for more time and has until April 24 to move out.
“What I worry about, is other people who aren’t as strong as I am and as resilient, and who don’t have any resources. And the legal availability for women and families to reach out to when they’re in the same type of situation,” said Patles. “It’s adamant that something be done for our people to get tenant protection and for something to be in place when someone suddenly becomes homeless when they’ve done nothing wrong.”
Keenan encourages bands to create both rules to regulate the relationship between landlords and tenants along with a body to mediate disputes fairly.
“Every First Nation is going to have think what is fair, what is doable and how are they going to protect people,” said Keenan. “Because it does create a lot of uncertainty for members who might be in a pretty precarious situation if they’re in a rental property and not sure they’re going to be able to stay there tomorrow.”
No word on whether the Eskasoni band council has any plans to address the issue.