Now that I've written a whole book about what happened in Caledonia, Ont., starting in February of 2006 and continuing to this day, it's daunting to offer a précis.
But basically it's this: The people of that lovely small town just an hour and change from Toronto were abandoned by their governments, and ultimately by their police force, and left to fend for themselves. The book is about the failure of government to govern, and of leaders to lead.
From the get-go, the federal and provincial governments had adopted a hands-off policy to the occupation. Ottawa didn't even recognize the tenuous land claim that residents of the Six Nations reserve were belatedly making, and deferred to Queen's Park; the Ontario government nonetheless treated the occupation as purely a land claim and somehow, overtly or in the subtle ways that are the hallmark of practised politicians, made its wishes known; the Ontario Provincial Police, first under then-commissioner Gwen Boniface and later under her successor Julian Fantino, now a star candidate for the Stephen Harper Conservatives, obligingly carried that message to the force's rank and file.
The end result was a form of policing that would be simply unrecognizable to Canadians living anywhere else in the country: cops who watched or turned away as the law was broken, sometimes brazenly; cops who appeared to take sides and would take action against only one group of people and not the other; cops who refused to make arrests, conduct investigations or protect the public.
Some of those officers who resisted were either punished, reprimanded or disciplined, with the result that the others lost heart.
Few people are as shamed by Caledonia, sickened by their own impotence, as the men and women of the OPP who worked there regularly.
At one end of the spectrum is a letter written by then-commissioner Fantino in December of 2008.
The occasion was the criminal trial of Clyde Powless, a Six Nations man who had acted as one of the band's spokesmen and liaisons during the most heated period of the occupation.
Mr. Powless was on trial for assaulting a non-native, anti-occupation leader named Gary McHale, an offence to which Mr. Powless pleaded guilty on Dec. 8 that year, and for which he received a conditional discharge.
But on Dec. 4, Commissioner Fantino provided a letter to Mr. Powless's lawyer.
He gave Mr. Powless a ringing endorsement. He blamed the victim, Mr. McHale, for having provoked the assault. "The Honourable Court," he suggested, might want to consider that Mr. Powless had often acted as a peacemaker.
It was extraordinary, and it was official: Ontario's senior law official was not only denouncing the victim of a crime, he was also singing the praises of the assailant to a judge.
At the other end of the spectrum is the event described in the excerpt below, which happened to a Caledonia resident named Dave Brown in May of 2006 - early on in the occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates housing development by protesters from the nearby Six Nations reserve and their supporters.
At this time, protesters had set up barricades to the site, issued makeshift "passports" to the residents, and were occasionally imposing curfews upon them.
This may be the sorriest night of Dave Brown's sorry four years, until his lawsuit against the Ontario government and the OPP was settled out of court in the fall of 2009 and he and his family were finally able to move away from the occupation site.
The very worst of the violence and lawlessness - grossly underreported in the national press - that marked this occupation were still to come, but the ground had been beautifully prepared, the conditions set, which would allow these things and, arguably, enable them.
BOOK EXCERPT: Helpless, by Christie Blatchford
In May of 2006, Dave Brown was still working at the Nicholson and Cates lumberyard, operating the lift truck, still hanging on to the remnants of his old life.Report Typo/Error
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