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Police tactics under fire in Caledonia

Residents attack hands-off approach
Say they've lost faith OPP will protect them

Jessica Leeder and Richard Brennan - Staff Reporters
Toronto Star
Jun. 21, 2006. 05:17 AM

[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—As the dust settles around the site of a native standoff in Caledonia, a troubling picture is emerging of how the community descended into near anarchy under the watch of the Ontario Provincial Police and could be poised to slip even further.

Rumblings that Six Nations members are prepared to use aggressive tactics to claim more land along the Grand River are growing louder, and some townspeople say they've lost faith that the police will protect them — and their land — if protestors stage more uprisings.

Since native protestors began occupying the Douglas Creek Estates development in February, police have been widely accused of turning a blind eye to lawbreakers, including those who dug up portions of the highway with a backhoe, lit tire fires and blocked the road.

Police officers are now saying their hands were tied by orders from OPP top brass.

"There were physical assaults taking place in front of you and you can't do anything about it. The OPP is a joke in terms of Caledonia. It has tarnished our name," said an OPP officer who spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity.

OPP Commissioner Gwen Boniface agreed to an interview with the Star, but cancelled yesterday, saying she fears her comments might upset negotiations between Ottawa, Queen's Park and the Six Nations.

Since the beginning of the Caledonia dispute, Haldimand County council officials, local residents and OPP union representatives have been waiting for a public explanation of Boniface's rationale for the hands-off approach. Some believe she got her orders from Liberal government officials who wanted to avoid a replay of other land disputes, where police and protestors died.

But they say the approach has caused damage to the force's reputation.

"They've turned into peacekeepers rather than law enforcers," said Ken Hewitt, a spokesman for the Caledonia Citizens' Alliance. "The question of their ability...has been challenged."

Worse, Hewitt said, it has become clear there are two systems of law in Caledonia. How each is applied seems to depend on which side of the barricades you live on.

A trio of Friday night incidents two weeks ago in which native protestors and local townsfolk seemed to be treated quite differently by police helped spread that sentiment, he said.

In one case, it is alleged more than a dozen officers stood by while two TV cameramen were beaten by protestors, and an elderly couple were swarmed in their car.

In a separate clash that night, officers in riot gear arrested but did not charge a group of locals who gathered behind an elementary school backing onto the occupied site.

"In one case, the law is applied. In the other, the law isn't," Hewitt said.

The incident prompted a flood of calls and emails calling for Haldimand County not to renew the OPP's contract, which comes up this fall, said Deputy Mayor Tom Patterson. "People here have been calling me up and saying 'get rid of this force.'"

The feeling is something cattle farmers Jill and John VanRyssel understand. "We have lost so much respect for the OPP. We really have," Jill VanRyssel said.

Karl Walsh, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, said Boniface should be forced to answer for her decisions in handling a situation he characterized as "anarchy."

"Our reputation has definitely suffered," Walsh said, adding it has nothing to do with officers on the ground and "everything to do with the people who are making those decisions."

But Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter said the fact no one has been killed or seriously hurt should be a measure of the success police have had in Caledonia.

"Oka and Ipperwash are still there to haunt us," he said, referring to two native land claim disputes in recent years that saw a Quebec police officer and a native protestor killed.

"I think the OPP have done an incredible job under very, very tough conditions."

Walsh said 16 officers were injured during the Caledonia standoff, which some predict could flare up again any time.

"This is going to get ugly again ... it's far from over," Hewitt said. "This quiet community will accept nothing less than those people, the protestors, removing themselves from the land."

Hazel Hill, a SixNations' spokeswoman, said her community has no plans to do so. The community is fed up with the land claims process, which would "have us sitting in the court system for hundreds of years."

She said her community is planning to continue claiming land along the Grand River it was given historic title to — a 10-kilometre stretch on both sides of the river, which runs more than 250 kilometres from the Grand Valley/Fergus area south to Lake Erie.

"It's all ours," Hill said. "It's not just Douglas Creek. The whole six miles on either side is ours, for our use and interests, forever."

Yesterday, David Ramsay, the provincial minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, announced compensation for homeowners who feel they have suffered because of the occupation. He didn't specify how much the province will hand out, and said he'll canvass homeowners about their needs.

Last week, the province agreed to buy out the developer of the housing project at the centre of the dispute, but the deal is still being finalized.

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