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Critics want to know if province ordered crackdown

Steve Erwin
Canadian Press
Thursday, April 20, 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.]

TORONTO - A confrontation Thursday between police and native protesters on a disputed tract of southwestern Ontario land has political critics wondering whether the lessons of a similar 1995 standoff at Ipperwash Provincial Park have been learned.

A pre-dawn police raid of the native occupation in the quiet community of Caledonia, 25 kilometres south of Hamilton, came one day after Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged that the dispute would be settled in a "peaceful manner.''

Instead, police arrived at the site at 5 a.m. Thursday to enforce a court injunction and end the 52-day occupation, but were quickly overwhelmed by additional protesters who descended on the scene when they learned of the crackdown.

McGuinty said the police action was "completely independent'' and that his government didn't learn of the raid until it was already in progress.

The conflict has conjured memories of the deadly standoff 11 years ago at Ipperwash, where protester Dudley George was killed by a police sniper as officers dressed in tactical gear began their march on the park.

The repercussions of that incident are still being felt today. An ongoing inquiry is exploring the question of whether former premier Mike Harris or any other member of his Conservative government played a role in the show of police force in 1995.

"In the intervening 11 years... police know now that every single thing that they do directed towards natives is going to be under the microscope and that they have to err on the side of caution, always,'' said Chris Mathers, a Toronto-based security consultant and former police officer.

"They got a bloody nose from this Ipperwash inquiry and I think they've learned the political realities,'' Mathers said, adding that police inevitably end up on the losing end of government inquiries that spend "months and months to ruminate on decisions that were made in the space of several minutes.''

Conservative and New Democrat critics differed in their impressions of how the Ipperwash legacy was colouring the current conflict. The Tories fear police are hamstrung by Liberal government inaction, while the NDP believes the Liberals are heading down the dangerous, violent path seen at Ipperwash.

"We don't need a repetition of what's happened in the past... clearly that is not where anybody wants to go,'' said New Democrat critic Gilles Bisson, whose northern Ontario riding includes a significant aboriginal contingent.

Bisson said the police raid suggests force won out over negotiation.

"It is quite frustrating,'' he said. ``We haven't learned the lessons of the past, it would appear.''

George's death came just three days after the Ipperwash occupation began, and tensions were running high almost from the outset.

The Caledonia occupation has been going on for nearly two months, and Thursday marked the first show of force by police even though an injunction ordering the protesters off the property was issued weeks ago.

Bisson said it appears something "went awry'' overnight after McGuinty insisted there was a "determination'' to resolve the dispute peacefully.

"I have a hard time believing (police) just did it on their own,'' Bisson said when asked whether he thought the government had a hand in the decision to go in.

But Conservative Leader John Tory accused the Liberals of being far too slow to act on the Caledonia conflict and called on the premier to show "leadership'' to resolve it.

McGuinty said the Ontario government is only a "secondary player'' in the matter and that Ottawa, not the province, is being asked by natives to spearhead discussions.

Conservative member Toby Barrett said he fears provincial police have been left unable to act as a result of Liberal inaction.

"It's unfortunate that our OPP have been put in this very tense position for almost two months now,'' Barrett said, accusing the Liberals of stalling on the issue for months.

On Wednesday, Barrett accused the Liberals of being "held hostage'' and showing "weakness and vulnerability'' to the protesters.

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