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Deputy police chief stresses lessons in 'dialogue'

Susan Clairmont
The Hamilton Spectator
(Apr 6, 2006)

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

Few cops want to talk about the way they deal with native protesters.

The issue is too controversial. Too sensitive. Too explosive.

As native activists stand fast in their month-long occupation of a site in Caledonia, and the Ipperwash Inquiry lumbers into its 22nd month, even police officers who are experts in First Nations issues are reluctant to talk about land occupations.

Strange, since all those who will talk say communication is the key.

"Communication is our No. 1 strategy," says Sergeant Dave Rektor, the Ontario Provincial Police spokesperson regarding the Caledonia protest. "We're not reluctant to talk about it."

Rektor wasn't the guy I had hoped to interview. I really wanted to speak to Inspector Ron George, one of the OPP's leading specialists on native issues. He was an essential adviser to Hamilton police when protesters, many of them aboriginal, settled in for an autumn of civil disobedience in the Red Hill Valley in 2003. Six years ago, he was consulted when racial tensions between native and non-native students at Hagersville Secondary School boiled over.

George is now deeply involved with the situation in Caledonia, having been brought in from OPP headquarters in Orillia. But he will not talk to the media.

I also called Inspector Glenn Trivett for an interview about how the OPP generally deals with native land occupations. He too declined an interview.

Trivett trains OPP officers on native awareness. He has educated about 1,600 field officers, every incident commander and most supervisors and members of the highly-trained and heavily-armed Emergency Response Teams (ERT) and Tactical and Rescue Units (TRU).

The sniper who shot and killed unarmed protester Dudley George during the Ipperwash occupation was a member of the TRU team.

Part of the week-long course Trivett teaches is on land occupations.

Calls to Superintendent Bill Crate in OPP corporate communications were not returned.

Several requests to interview native experts with the RCMP were also unsuccessful.

The standoff at Douglas Creek Estates in Caledonia involves dozens of natives who have put up tents and teepees to occupy land they believe rightfully belongs to the Six Nations. Their presence has stopped the work of a developer who won a court injunction that police have not enforced.

The delay in making arrests or forcing protesters off the site has angered some residents in that community, who are questioning the OPP's apparent wait-and-see strategy.

But Rektor says it is in everyone's best interests to talk before acting. In the long run, communication will be safer and more productive than a physical confrontation.

Still, there is much he won't talk about. Although he confirms police experts have been brought in to Caledonia, he won't say who or how many. He won't discuss anything considered an operational matter.

There is one expert who is talking though. That's Hamilton Deputy Chief Ken Leendertse.

When protesters were keeping sacred fires in the Red Hill Valley, it was then-Superintendent Leendertse who regularly took off his gun, changed into civilian clothes and tromped through the woods to "dialogue" with native activists.

"The most important thing is using dialogue," he says. "We really pushed the aspect of negotiating."

During the months of unrest in the valley, Leendertse positioned the police "out of the equation."

He made it clear the dispute was between the city, which wanted to build an expressway, and protesters, who wanted to preserve the land.

Police were the peacekeepers.

"We were there not only to protect the community but to protect the protesters as well," he says.

"You can't just hope the matter will be resolved by removing the protesters. If you remove 10 one day, the next day there will be 20 and the next day there will be 100."

In the months that passed before arrests were made, Leendertse built a respectful relationship with the core protesters. He promised he would not make arrests at night and would give them a week's notice of when police would move in.

At the same time, police were gathering intelligence on the protesters. They were determining if rumours were true that a cache of weapons was stored under the floorboards of the longhouse. There weren't any. They learned who the informal leaders of the movement were and how many warriors were there.

On the morning of the arrests, the only people left in the valley were "professional" protesters who did not represent the band council, the Six Nations confederacy or the Friends of Red Hill Valley group, according to Leendertse.

"There was just those who did not have a voice at the table."

The Red Hill saga wasn't without mistakes. Leendertse admits he took a lot of heat for having an undercover officer infiltrate the protesters and then try to agitate the peaceful bunch. Some protesters felt betrayed.

In the end, the land was cleared and the expressway was begun. Nobody was injured. There were no violent confrontations. Leendertse says the Hamilton police strategy was "hailed as a success across the province."

Maybe that's why Leendertse doesn't mind talking.

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