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cblatchford@globeandmail.com

It is the most astonishing thing, but the Ontario government is bitterly defending a lawsuit in which key police witnesses admit most of the allegations, chiefly that the OPP stood by and did virtually nothing as a Caledonia, Ont., family was terrorized during a native occupation that began almost four years ago.

The province and the OPP are being sued for a total of $7-million by Dave Brown, Dana Chatwell and their teenage son Dax for failing to protect them during the standoff.

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The family's home is cheek-by-jowl to the former Douglas Creek Estates, the housing development seized by native protesters from the nearby Six Nations reserve on Feb. 28, 2006.

The natives continue to occupy the land, which was bought in July that year by the province for $12-million; the beleaguered family continues to live there, and though the worst overt lawlessness occurred in a month-long period in the spring of '06, the harassment has also intermittently continued.

Mr. Brown took the witness box earlier this week but fell ill Wednesday with bronchitis and gastritis.

So yesterday his lawyer, Michael Bordin, continued to "read in" testimony given in pretrial discovery, this time from OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, who took over the force in the fall of 2006, and from incident commander Superintendent John Cain.

Added to the read-ins from earlier police witnesses, it is abundantly clear that the OPP brass and officers on the ground knew the lawless conduct some of the natives were engaging in and its likely effects upon Mr. Brown and his family.

The tone of the admissions is perhaps best represented in an exchange between John Evans, the senior lawyer on the case who examined both men, and Commissioner Fantino, during his two days of discovery earlier this year.

Mr. Evans was asking if the commissioner was aware of an incident where Mr. Brown was cutting his grass when a native man drove by, said "You're fucking dead!" and drove directly at him, forcing Mr. Brown to jump in the ditch.

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Commissioner Fantino said he hadn't heard about that particular incident, but admitted he did know of instances where suspects were allowed to flee unmolested onto the DCE lands, or as Mr. Evans put it, "the OPP would not go onto DCE to apprehend the individual.

"And what's the reason for that?" Mr. Evans asked.

"The escalation of conflict and violence and so forth, and safety of the officers as well," Commissioner Fantino replied.

Mr. Evans also took Commissioner Fantino through a series of questions that established that the head of the OPP knew natives, sometimes wearing camouflage and face masks, were shining spotlights into the Brown home; threatening and harassing the family; regularly trespassing and lighting fires; drumming and yelling and disturbing the peace - and that the cumulative effect of such conduct was likely to intimidate Mr. Brown and his family and constituted "emotional and psychological abuse" by the protesters.

Yet, when Mr. Evans asked the OPP commissioner if the proper police response would be to investigate or lay charges, he regularly replied, "In normal circumstances, yes" or "Normally, yes."

Commissioner Fantino also admitted taking a tour around the perimeter of the native-occupied land - perhaps even his first as the OPP boss - early in 2007 "in a truck with a couple of first nations guys." Asked by Mr. Evans what he learned from the trip, he said he had been struck by "the vulnerability of the railway tracks" nearby.

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"What observations did you make about the vulnerability of Brown's property to the occupation?" Mr. Evans asked.

"Same thing," Commissioner Fantino said.

"What does that mean?" Mr. Evans asked, and the commissioner replied how close the Brown home was to the occupied land, "almost within it, really."

Supt. Cain, the senior officer in charge at the time, made similar admissions in his three days of discovery in November of last year.

He acknowledged that to his knowledge, since the OPP made a failed raid on the property on April 20, 2006 - the police went in intending to enforce a court injunction and were repelled by furious natives - he knew of only a single time when police had gone onto the site.

That was in September of last year, when police received several reports of a man brandishing a gun. "In my own mind today," Supt. Cain told Mr. Evans, "I know of once that we've actually gone on the site."

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He agreed that the county had requested the police "to restore law and order to their community," admitted he knew Mr. Brown and family had to produce native-issued "passports" to get to their home, that they were sometimes denied access, and that it was illegal.

Mr. Evans gave him an example, where Ms. Chatwell "is coming down in her car" to pass the native barricade. "What's she done wrong so far?" he asked. "Nothing," said Supt. Cain.

He also agreed knowing that natives had threatened to burn the Brown house down or take it over; that natives sometimes searched the family car and that there were reports of thefts - and that all of that was illegal.

"Were there any charges laid with respect to the illegal searches or the unlawful thefts?" Mr. Evans asked.

"To my knowledge," Supt. Cain replied, "I'm not aware of any charges being laid."

In perhaps one of the most egregious incidents, which saw Mr. Brown's house vandalized and trashed in December of 2006 while the family was out for the night, Supt. Cain admitted that the family was treated like suspects - and worse, that once they had been cleared, not one native from DCE was questioned about the break-in.

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"I'm not aware of any first nations people being interviewed as suspects," he said, though he admitted in the next breath that the evidence "that was presented" would have led his officers to believe that natives were involved.

Supt. Cain also acknowledged police had reports of gunfire coming from the site, but that was "determined to come from the Six Nations reserve" right behind.

Oh well then.

The trial continues Monday.

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