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Op-Ed: Common sense needed over standoff

The origins of the native claims and protests in Caledonia are found as far back as the American Revolutionary War

Murray Campbell
The Globe & Mail
Tuesday, April 25, 2006, Page A7

[SISIS note: The following mainstream op-ed 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.]

The Ontario government has sided with critics who are saying that police had every right to bust into a native occupation last week in order to enforce a court injunction. The critics say that "the rule of law must prevail" and Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter apparently agrees.

He said yesterday that the Ontario Provincial Police were duty-bound to ignore their own policy on "aboriginal critical incidents" -- which emphasizes "accommodation and mutual respect" -- because a judge had ruled that native protesters at a contested piece of land near Caledonia should be evicted.

It's a compelling argument. Who doesn't believe in the rule of law? But the question has to be asked: "Whose law?"

Is it the law of the conquering race that apportions land and offers clear deeds of ownership? Or is it the law of the natives who sanctify the land -- the back of the great turtle -- and do not believe it should be commercialized?

Is it the law of the Ontario court that granted the injunction to clear the protesters from the property that is a small part of a Six Nations land claim?

Or the fundamental law of the Charter of Rights which says that the process of due justice cannot erode aboriginal rights, particularly when a land claim is involved?

These are not easy questions to answer and those who cheer for a swift OPP kick at the protesters who have been occupying Douglas Creek Estates since Feb. 28 are ignoring that reality.

There are two competing sets of frustration here.

On one side, the 21,000 residents of the Six Nations carry in their souls two centuries of memories of autocratic or indifferent governments in Ottawa and Queen's Park.

They say that the disputed land -- part of a 950,000-acre grant given by a grateful Crown for services during the U.S. War of Independence -- was taken from them in the 1840s.

The Six Nations filed a claim with the federal government about this so-called Plank Road land in 1987. Five years later, with the claim still in limbo, a small, local development company, Henco Industries Ltd., bought 40 acres of land from a farmer. Last fall, it started construction on a 71-house subdivision, the sort of project that is needed as the Ontario government tries to direct development away from the GTA.

The protest disrupted Henco's work, tying up its $6-million investment and threatening it with bankruptcy. It was only doing what it had to do in filing for injunctions before the Ontario Superior Court.

It is a classic clash that is often seen across Canada, which (as odd as it might seem) means that it ought not be handled solely by the inflexible rule of law. The OPP knows this. This is why their protocol for aboriginal issues recognizes that "critical incidents are often avoidable" even when a conflict stems from "assertions associated with aboriginal or treaty rights."

We still don't know exactly why the police decided to ignore its own policy and move on the protesters in the predawn hours last Thursday. Mr. Kwinter believes it is inappropriate for him to ask because that would indicate that he was trying to direct an operation.

Of course, no one wants that. The OPP raid on Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995 has taught us the folly of force when there is no need for it. Mr. Kwinter argued that this is a "two-track situation" in which the peace-and-love OPP protocol has to give way to the dictates of the courts. But surely the option is open for the government to remind the police of a guideline that emphasizes non-confrontation without removing the policy ability to act if lives are endangered. As New Democratic Leader Howard Hampton pointed out yesterday, governments have intruded before to order that charges must be laid in domestic-abuse incidents.

The bungled police raid on Caledonia has enormously complicated the job of ending the occupation. Goodwill has to be restored and that means the Six Nations has to believe the OPP won't be back.

It took Queen's Park six weeks to appoint a mediator in the dispute, but apparently the talks are going well. At its earliest opportunity, the government should declare that it is willing to help beleaguered Henco and smooth the return of the land to native control. Sometimes the rule of law isn't enough. Sometimes common sense should prevail.

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