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OPP officers getting unfair rap: residents

Some in Caledonia feel police aren't allowed to do their job

Paul Legall
Hamilton Spectator
CALEDONIA (Jun 9, 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.]

The OPP officers assigned to the native standoff did little to bolster the confidence of the people they're supposed to protect by admitting they are concerned about their own safety.

"How can they be expected to protect a town of 10,000 if they feel unsafe themselves?" a Thistlemoor Drive resident told The Spectator.

But the citizen, who identified herself only as Christy, was pleased the officers had publicly revealed concerns about their ability to enforce the law.

"As a Caledonia resident, it is wonderful to see the OPP front-line officers are finally speaking up and telling their superiors they are tired of not being protected themselves," added the woman whose home backs onto Douglas Creek Estates.

She was reacting to comments Wednesday by Karl Walsh, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association.

In an interview with The Hamilton Spectator, Walsh accused the OPP brass of bending the rules and compromising officer safety because of political pressures and "optics."

He said officers are often left without proper backup and aren't allowed to carry riot gear or wear tactical uniforms while dealing with native protesters. So far, 13 officers have been injured policing the standoff. Most of the officers are from other departments across the province and were brought in specifically to police the protest.

Walsh's comments marked the first time anybody representing the rank and file officers had spoken out since the native occupation of Douglas Creek Estates started 101 days ago.

In a press release, OPP Commissioner Gwen Boniface said, "The well-being and safety of officers is always a priority. The OPP is committed to working through the occupation without significant injury to anyone involved."

The release said operational decisions, such as uniforms and equipment to be worn, are made in a way that promotes the safety of all members of the community, including OPP officers.

Starting with a core group of 18 protesters, the natives now have the 40-hectare subdivision completely sealed off with an elaborate system of barricades, encampments and lookout points. They have a sophisticated security network and can bring in hundreds of supporters to the site on short notice.

On April 20, native protesters wielding clubs, shovels and other crude weapons were able to drive back dozens of OPP officers who had entered the occupied area in an abortive effort to evict the natives. It was the first and only time they've attempted to enforce a court order directing the natives to leave the site and their inaction has prompted charges they're allowing people to break the law with impunity.

But some residents -- like the Thistlemoor Drive resident -- feel the police are getting an unfair rap.

"I feel bad for them. They seem to be hanging their heads because the town people have shown so much disrespect for them," she said.

She added they're often taunted and assailed with epithets such as "Pig" when they try to do their job.

A young mother, who identified herself only as Chris, said she understands why the officers have safety concerns.

"I think they're doing the best they can within the limits they've been given," she said.

Local businessman Ken Hewitt, a spokesperson for the Caledonia Citizens Alliance, said police morale has suffered because they aren't allowed to do their job. "OPP morale is at an all-time low. I mean, they enlisted and signed up to uphold the law and they see the law broken because their bosses are telling them not to engage for political reasons," Hewitt said.

Like other residents, he believes the OPP brass's attitude has been coloured by the Ipperwash fiasco 11 years ago when an OPP tactical team shot and killed native protester Dudley George during the occupation of a park.

"I think it's very clear you can link the actions in Ipperwash with decisions made today. They've been walking on eggshells," Hewitt said.

He believes there were about 500 officers in the Caledonia area the day they tried to enforce the injunction. But the numbers have fluctuated since then and went down dramatically after politicians at Queen's Park complained it was costing millions to police the dispute.

His biggest fear is that somebody will do something stupid -- like crashing through a native barricade -- and create a confrontation the police won't be able to control. "If some hothead decided to go off the deep end and do something stupid, there wouldn't be enough officers to protect anybody," he said.

Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer also praised the police for their candour.

She said she has spoken privately with a number of officers who are frustrated with the constraints.

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