The new boss of the Ontario Provincial Police is the man who two years ago told his police officers that "short of somebody having a kid kidnapped," they weren't to go onto Douglas Creek Estates in Caledonia, Ont.
Chris Lewis, whose appointment as Commissioner Julian Fantino's successor was announced by Premier Dalton McGuinty on Wednesday, made the comment at a board meeting of the OPP Association.
Douglas Creek Estates, or DCE as it's called, is in its fifth year of occupation by natives from the nearby Six Nations reserve.
Then a subdivision under construction, the site was taken over on Feb. 28, 2006.
That summer, after the OPP was driven back by hundreds of occupiers who poured onto the site, the Ontario government bought the property from the developer and has allowed native occupiers to remain there unmolested ever since.
At the time, Mr. Lewis' stunning remark - a brazen admission that DCE was a "no-go zone" for his police force - went wholly unreported.
The Globe and Mail has obtained OPPA minutes of the spring, 2008, meeting, one of two that the force's senior command have every year with the police union and where they answer questions.
The minutes show that Detective-Sergeant Roger Geysons, president of the branch encompassing Caledonia, prefaced a question by noting that there had been several recent occurrences "involving First Nations persons observed committing a criminal act and subsequently fleeing" onto DCE.
He demanded to know what written orders there were, and concluded, "Are OPP members allowed on DCE?"
Mr. Lewis, then deputy commissioner, with Commissioner Fantino at his side, replied that it was "news to me that this was still an issue" and said, "Short of somebody having a kid kidnapped and running onto the DCE, we're not going to go onto that property. It's just a recipe for disaster and it will set things back there."
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Lewis said, "In 2008, that statement would be true."
He said the situation in the small town about 15 minutes south of Hamilton has changed dramatically since, and things are peaceful there.
"Now largely the tensions are virtually nil," he told The Globe, "until once in a while someone wants to march onto the property."
But while Mr. Lewis said he wouldn't call DCE a no-go zone any longer, he said "we wouldn't just barge onto the DCE" either. Any attempt by the force to enter the site, he said, would follow what is now established procedure in the area, with police first reaching out to Six Nations' contacts and effectively seeking their permission to go on the disputed land.
Mr. Lewis said if a murderer ran into a non-native citizen's house, the police wouldn't just barge in there, either.
But he agreed that neither would the OPP first seek the homeowner's permission, consult the local neighbourhood association or ratepayers' group and, in effect, act only with community approbation - which is what the OPP does with DCE.
The appointment of the career OPP officer, who was a Fantino ally, and who in his own words was "part of any strategies and plans" developed over the past three-and-a-half years, and who, furthermore, has deep roots on the aboriginal side of policing, means the government is holding firm to the party line on the Caledonia situation.
As the deputy for field operations, a promotion made when Commissioner Fantino took over the OPP, Mr. Lewis was in charge of the development of the force's independent Aboriginal policing bureau, the unit that incorporates the former aboriginal relations team (now called the provincial liaison team), whose members played a crucial and controversial role in the Caledonia crisis.
As he told a reporter at Queen's Park yesterday when asked if there would be a change in policy on the Caledonia standoff, "No. I've been a part of it, and the executive lead, even though there's no standoff per se."
The kindest way to describe the OPP's style of policing throughout the four years-plus of the Caledonia occupation would be as a modern, "measured response" approach, which is indeed just how Mr. Lewis described it.
But a growing lineup of critics, including residents who lived through the worst of the violence and OPP officers themselves, call it "two-tiered" policing, with one set of rules (traditional enforcement) for non-natives and quite another (no enforcement, or a delayed and untraditional sort) for natives.
It was clear from the OPPA minutes that fully two years after the occupation began, front-line officers were still confused and angry about their orders surrounding DCE.
As for another trademark of Commissioner Fantino's style in Caledonia, Mr. Lewis was wholly unapologetic.
As e-mails disclosed in court actions reveal, Commissioner Fantino led a vigorous and sustained campaign against activist Gary McHale, a former Richmond Hill, Ont., resident who owns the CaledoniaWakeUpCall website and who subsequently moved to the area.
Commissioner Fantino was hell-bent for leather on seeing Mr. McHale arrested and Mr. Lewis was his enthusiastic sidekick.
In one eight-day period in 2007, Commissioner Fantino wrote at least 27 e-mails on the subject himself. Many were copied to Mr. Lewis, who at one point asked officers if the McHale arrest plan could be rushed.
Mr. McHale was arrested on Dec. 7, 2007, and charged with the bizarre offence of "counselling mischief not committed." For more than two years, he was subjected to restrictive bail conditions that prevented him from even entering Caledonia.
Earlier this year, the Crown formally withdrew the charge.
Asked if he had any second thoughts on how Mr. McHale was pursued, Mr. Lewis said flatly, "None. Absolutely none."
Thus, for both Caledonia residents and OPP front-line officers who might have been hoping for a return of the rule of law to that benighted town, the government's answer in the Chris Lewis appointment is a decisive, if not derisive, no.