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Legislative Assembly of Ontario
June 8, 2006
Mr. Robert W. Runciman (Leeds-Grenville): My question is for the Minister of Community Safety. Minister, in today's Toronto Star there's an alarming report that calls into question the safety of OPP officers policing the Caledonia land occupation. The Ontario Provincial Police Association says that public image is being placed ahead of officer safety and law and order. Can you tell us if officer safety is being put at risk at Caledonia, and, if yes, what are you doing about it?
Hon. Monte Kwinter (Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services): The member from Leeds-Grenville, of anyone in this House, should know that I have no responsibility for directing the OPP as to what they do and how they do it.
I have utmost confidence in OPP Commissioner Gwen Boniface. She is internationally recognized as a top police officer. I have confidence in the senior management of the OPP. They make decisions based on their need to provide the citizens of Ontario with the safest police force that they can have.
Mr. Runciman: The Star report indicates that so far, 100 days into the longest occupation in Canadian history, 13 officers have been injured. It also states that officers are not being allowed to wear appropriate safety gear, for optical reasons. These are the sons and daughters, husbands and wives, moms and dads who don't know if they'll be coming home unharmed because they're not in proper uniform.
One of your responsibilities as top cop is to stand up for front-line officer safety. Earlier this week, you blamed OPP officers for making what you described as a wrong turn that resulted in them being assaulted and run off occupied property. Minister, when are you going to put political imagery aside, do your job, stand up for officer safety and insist that front-line officers at Caledonia be equipped with the appropriate safety gear?
Hon. Mr. Kwinter: Just to correct the record, I did not blame the OPP officers for making a wrong turn; I just stated that they did. I wasn't apportioning any blame to them; I was just stating the facts.
The other situation is that any equipment that is required, any dress that is required, any operational issues that are required are the sole responsibility of the OPP. If there are any concerns that people have, particularly the president of the OPPA -- he knows the procedure; he knows that he should be contacting the commissioner. As a matter of fact, I understand he is planning to do that as we speak.
This is a situation where when you talk about political posturing, we have a situation where the Leader of the Opposition was in Caledonia, bragging about how he's been there several times, and he has not once talked to the OPP. How does he know what's going on there when he's never talked to them?
Mr. Runciman: I wonder how many times the Minister of Community Safety has been to Caledonia. Zero.
We are now beginning to see public concern among police officers forced to work in the politically correct world of Dalton McGuinty. Political optics trump front-line officer safety: Don't do or wear anything that could potentially damage the image of the Liberal government.
Minister, knowing you as I do, I'm sure you are personally concerned about the safety situation: 13 officers injured to date. I ask you to override the political manipulators in Mr. McGuinty's office and insist that officers at Caledonia can wear the appropriate safety equipment. These officers and their families deserve to know that their safety, not optics, is your government's first priority.
Hon. Mr. Kwinter: I hold a challenge out to the member from Leeds-Grenville: If you can prove to me that anybody -- anybody in my ministry, anybody in this government -- has in any way directed the OPP to do anything, then we can discuss your concerns. I would suggest to you that you have a responsibility to correct the record, to suggest that we in fact are interfering with the operation of the OPP.
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): New question.
Mr. Ted Chudleigh (Halton): My question is to the minister of native affairs. This week, Dalton McGuinty referred to the Caledonia standoff as being one "without incident," this after 13 police officers have been injured; tire fires have been seen for miles; there was an electricity blackout involving more than 9,000 people and businesses caused by sabotage of a transformer station; there were brawls between protesters and other Caledonians; a security guard's car was burnt to the ground; paved Ontario roads were being dug up by heavy machinery; two OPP officers were reportedly held by protesters for entering a no-go zone, and on and on. Clearly, Minister, Mr. McGuinty is out of touch with what is going on in Caledonia. If not, why would he have said such a thing?
Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): I was in the House when the Premier give that response, and I know exactly what the Premier was responding to. Basically, your party, the official opposition, was asking questions that were suggesting there should be stronger action being brought to bear on this situation rather than the approach that we have taken of negotiation. What the Premier was saying was, unlike some of the incidents in the past where there have been deaths -- there was a death at Oka and there was a death, as we know, at Ipperwash. What the Premier was stating was that we did not have an incident of loss of life like that here, and that it's because of the cool manner we've taken and proceeded with in trying to resolve this issue.
Mr. Chudleigh: I beg to differ with you. Caledonia has undergone more than 100 days of hardship, with no solution in sight. Businesses have suffered. People have been hurt. The community is torn in half. Youth sports are now being cancelled or boycotted. For Mr. McGuinty to describe this standoff as one "without incident" is at best insensitive and insulting to the injured OPP officers and the entire community of the Caledonia area. The Premier has trivialized this standoff from the beginning, and his lack of leadership is inexcusable.
Minister, will you, on behalf of your government, apologize for the Premier's remarks, his insensitive remarks, of this week?
Hon. Mr. Ramsay: It appears we're going to be here all afternoon, I suppose, debating semantics, and you can do that if you wish.
What I want to say to you is that Premier McGuinty has put all the resources of the Ontario government behind resolving this issue, and that's from day one. We've been doing that and working with the people of Caledonia, and you know the help that we've brought to the community: the $500,000 that the Minister of Economic Development and Trade has brought to the community; the work we've been doing with the Six Nations community. You know it's a complex and difficult issue. Today, the long-term table, with Jane Stewart and Barbara McDougall, are talking as we speak today, and we're working towards a resolution.
Mr. Chudleigh: Dalton McGuinty has been missing in action when it comes to the standoff in Caledonia. All we have heard is desperate spin about instructing police officers, how motions passed in this Legislature are nothing but mischievous and how this situation is without incident or physical harm.
Minister, your Premier's irresponsible and inexcusable spin job exemplifies his inability to show real leadership on this particular issue. You and your Premier need to tune in to what is really going on down there, and you can start by retracting and apologizing for Dalton McGuinty's insensitive remarks about the standoff being without incident. It is not even close to being accurate, and the record should be corrected here in the House today. Will you do that, Minister? Will you apologize and confirm that the Premier's comments were inaccurate and wrong?
Hon. Mr. Ramsay: On many occasions in this House in response to questions, all of us on the government side have stated how saddened we were by the incredible disruptions to people's lives that have happened down in the Caledonia area. It has affected the community, it has affected businesses, and we have tried to support and respond to those concerns.
I would say to you, in talking to Jane Stewart this morning before she went into negotiations, that we are confident that we have a good engagement with the Six Nations leadership. We're going to have some good, productive discussions today, and our goal and our aim here are to solve this situation for the betterment of the community at large in Caledonia and the people of Six Nations.
Mr. Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North): My question today is for the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Minister, as you know, the general headquarters of the OPP is located in my riding of Simcoe North in the city of Orillia. We're very proud of their strong presence and community involvement. I speak to officers virtually every day, and lately the discussion is about Caledonia. Officers have told me that the officers at Caledonia feel like the meat in a sandwich. They are the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers of Ontario families. These men and women put their lives on the line every day.
Minister, the president of the OPPA has criticized the government for the lack of support involving equipment and clothing used under normal procedures. The officers have been told not to wear riot gear and tactical uniforms when dealing with native protesters. In today's Toronto Star, Susan Clairmont's column, President Walsh of the OPPA made a statement on this very issue: "Due to the political pressures and optics involved with this, the OPP seems to be bending their own rules while sacrificing officer safety."
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): The question's been asked.
Hon. Monte Kwinter (Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services): I assume there was a question that was contemplated in that statement. I'll try to anticipate what it is.
As I told the member from Leeds-Grenville, the OPP is directed by Commissioner Gwen Boniface and her command officers. They make the determinations as to what their officers will be doing. It is their responsibility. In conversations I've had with the commissioner over time, she has not in any way ever indicated that they lack resources, that they lack manpower. She has said they are equipped to deal with the situation as they find it. I have a great deal of confidence in the OPP. I have confidence in their leadership, and I have confidence in all the men and women who serve this province so ably.
Mr. Dunlop: Minister, it is clear that OPP officers' safety is in jeopardy because of political optics. Further in today's Toronto Star, President Walsh makes two more statements in reference to this issue: "It's okay to have an officer ... in tactical uniform at Wasaga Beach on a long weekend, but it's not okay in Caledonia." The second quote is, "But these officers were ordered not to wear them for optical purposes." Minister, do you agree with the statements made by OPP President Walsh?
Hon. Mr. Kwinter: I have no ability to disagree with him because this is an internal operational issue of the OPP. If Karl Walsh, the president of the OPPA, has a problem with the direction the OPP is taking, it's up to him as the president of the OPPA to direct his concerns to the commissioner. It is my understanding that in fact that is what he is doing. To suggest that I should get involved in an operational issue that is the responsibility of the OPP and the concern of the OPPA is just not true. That's not something I am entitled or enabled to do.