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Police getting smeared in Caledonia: Union groups

Mike Oliveira
Canadian Press
June 18, 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.]

CALEDONIA, Ont. -- It's been thankless work for police along the front lines of Canada's latest aboriginal standoff, a difficult and dangerous assignment that has so far yielded little more than sullied reputations and daily doses of abuse, union leaders say.

In conversations at coffee shops and on reserves, police are being blamed for allowing tensions -- including violent clashes between aboriginal protesters and town residents -- to reach the boiling point, said Karl Walsh, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association.

"Our reputation has suffered throughout Ontario, but most notably in the community we're policing, Caledonia, and I think that's an awful thing," said Walsh.

"We're caught in the middle of it. We're supposed to be the law enforcers and somehow we've ended up in a United Nations peacekeeping mission."

It was late February when Six Nations protesters seized control of a half-finished housing development in Caledonia, a 20-minute drive south of Hamilton, claiming the land was part of a parcel they say was stolen from them two centuries ago.

An ill-fated pre-dawn police raid nearly two months later aimed at ending the occupation had precisely the opposite effect: 16 people were arrested, but reinforcements poured in from the neighbouring Six Nations reserve and barricades went up on local roads.

Tension has persisted ever since, punctuated by a number of angry clashes between occupiers and frustrated locals. Police have been caught in the middle, enduring the taunts and curses not only of the protesters, but of taxpayers demanding action.

Police officers no doubt wanted to intervene when fights broke out or when they witnessed crimes, but they probably had little choice, said Chris Mathers, a private security consultant who spent 20 years in the RCMP.

"They don't have any rules, they're just not allowed to engage unless there's really egregious breaches of the peace," Mathers said.

"They feel impotent, they're damned either way, no matter what they do. If it works out badly they're going to be castigated publicly."

Walsh couldn't confirm whether police have specific rules of engagement dictating when they should ignore minor crimes, but noted that every one of their actions is being scrutinized by hundreds of onlookers and countless camera lenses.

"The officers feel like a deer in the headlights; they're starting to second-guess their better judgment, and their better judgment would indicate they should act," Walsh said.

"Now they're faced with thoughts of, 'Am I going to get the support of the force, the government, their association, the townspeople, the First Nations?'"

Much has been made of a flare-up 10 days ago when police were said to have stood idly by while two TV cameramen were attacked and an elderly couple was swarmed in their car, but Walsh insisted police did not ignore the aggression.

"What people don't understand is that there was a significant amount of activity there and those officers were occupied with other antagonizers," he said.

Kathe Golke, who was in her car with her husband when it was attacked, told the Simcoe Reformer newspaper that the police did a great job of getting them out of trouble.

"We said when we win the lottery, we'll send them all on vacation," Golke said.

Previous clashes with aboriginals, such as those in Ipperwash, Ont., in 1995 and Oka, Que., in 1990, have taught police lessons about restraint and tact, Vancouver police Chief Jamie Graham said at the 2006 International Conference for Police and Police Officer Executives.

That can sometimes be misconstrued as negligence or apathy, Graham noted.

"When disputes and issues of occupation of property lands go beyond simply routine trespassing and delve into labour disputes or occupations...what I don't want to have happen is for people to look back after these things are resolved and have the public say, 'You guys acted too fast,"' he said.

"What we don't want to do is overreact; when you do that, you've really got trouble."

It's not easy to show restraint amid the chaos, especially when officers see their colleagues being surrounded and jostled in crowds, Walsh said.

And the situation is even tougher to handle month after month because it's not the police's fight, he added.

"It's not the OPP's responsibility to negotiate federal land claims, yet we're stuck in the middle of it."

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