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OPP officers say their safety not a priority

Guelph Mercury
CALEDONIA (Jun 8, 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.]

Provincial police officers assigned to the native standoff in Caledonia say their bosses have put their public image ahead of officer safety and law and order.

Talking for the first time since the volatile land occupation began 100 days ago, the president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association says a meeting is being held tonight in Caledonia so the association can hear the concerns of officers who have been told not to wear riot gear or tactical uniforms when dealing with native protesters, are being sent out without proper backup and are left wondering if commanding officers and the courts will back them up when they try to enforce the law.

"Due to the political pressures and optics involved with this, the OPP seems to be bending their own rules while sacrificing officer safety," Karl Walsh says. "Optics don't have any place on the front lines at Caledonia."

The OPP have had a fluctuating presence at the protest ever since natives began occupying a housing development they claim is being built on their land. At some points, the presence consisted of nothing more than a single OPP officer watching the natives from a parked cruiser. At other times, lines of officers have physically stood between natives and Caledonia residents as tempers flared.

Front-line officers feel they haven't had a strong enough presence at the barricades and that not having enough officers makes it a dangerous situation for those who are sent.

The "deviation from the usual training and standards" of the OPP "has been an underlying concern from the get-go" in Caledonia, says Walsh. So far, 13 officers have been injured while assigned to the standoff.

The standard practice for OPP officers dealing with an unruly crowd -- as both the protesters and the townsfolk have sometimes been during the past months -- is to dress in "public order gear," consisting of helmets, visors and shields.

"But these officers were ordered not to wear them for optical purposes," according to Walsh. The OPP doesn't want to give the media, the protesters or the residents of Caledonia the impression "there's an increased level of aggressiveness" in what they consistently have called a "peaceful" operation.

Constable Paula Wright, the Haldimand detachment media officer, says "our role is to keep the peace and ensure public safety."

Wright would not talk about police gear or uniforms, saying those are "operational matters" that will not be discussed publicly because to do so could jeopardize officer safety.

Some officers, like those from the local detachments and members of the specially trained OPP Aboriginal Response Team who were deployed as negotiators, have been at the standoff from the beginning. Others are rotated in every seven days from across the province. It was two of those officers, who having just arrived from out-of-town on Sunday, found their cruiser surrounded by angry natives Sunday night after they mistakenly turned down the Sixth Line, a road that was a mutually agreed upon "no-go zone" for the OPP.

"They got surrounded and there were a lot of upset people at the time," says Walsh. The officers apologized to the crowd of 40 people and said they would leave. They weren't allowed to and the cruiser was damaged. Six Nations Police officers arrived and, according to Walsh, issued trespassing tickets to the officers under The Indian Act.

Six Nations Police could not be reached for comment.

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