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christie blatchford

John Evans had just asked Dave Brown to describe the effects on his spirit and health of almost four years of violence, threats, bullying and neglect, in the first instance by the native occupiers of land adjacent to his Caledonia, Ont., home and in the second by the government officials and police who failed to rein in the protesters and collectively functioned as the natives' handmaidens.

Eyes downcast, for he is often ashamed in these proceedings, Mr. Brown replied to his lawyer's question: "I've lost my motivation, my mojo I guess you'd call it. I have no pride. I have no dignity. … It seems like I've been waiting and waiting, trying to get out of this ridiculous nightmare."

Finally, he looked up and a little to his right, where Ontario Superior Court Judge Thomas Bielby sits.

Mr. Brown told the judge that in fact, he probably feels better this week than he has in a long while. His eyes were damp and grateful as he said, "I finally have a Superior Court judge who is listening to me … ."

It was a powerful moment, and it captured what a friend calls the real nobility of the courts - to act as the forum of last resort for the weak against the strong.

Mr. Brown and his wife, Dana Chatwell, and their 18-year-old son, Dax, are suing the Ontario government and the OPP for $7-million for, in effect, abandoning them to the Six Nations natives who, in February, 2006, first marched onto the development then known as Douglas Creek Estates in the small town south of Hamilton. The Brown house is bounded on two sides by the disputed lands, although not part of the former estate or the long-simmering land claim that in the modern parlance is the "root cause."

About two months later, the natives, their numbers swollen by Mohawk Warriors, repelled the OPP, who had dared come onto the land to enforce a court injunction, and in furious retaliation threw up barricades blocking public roads and turned Mr. Brown and his family into captives.

The natives remain there today, compliments of the province, which in July that year bought out the developer for $12-million. With few exceptions, the OPP have not returned, allowing the old Douglas Creek Estates, or DCE as everyone calls it, to become a lawless no-man's land.

What has happened in the intervening years ranges from the overtly violent (natives tossing a car from an overpass, burning a wooden bridge) to the petty (a native man urinating on Mr. Brown's property, saying, "That's what I think of your land") to the merely irritating (spotlights shone into the family's house at night, firecrackers aimed their way).

Yesterday, Mr. Brown added to that long list.

In one of the most vile incidents, just before Christmas in 2006, Mr. Brown, Ms. Chatwell and a friend arrived home about 1 a.m. to discover intruders had been in the house.

"Everything we owned was just demolished," Mr. Brown said. The house had been vandalized, the walls strewn with unspeakable graffiti (among the mildest epithets, "Pigs," "Racists," and "White trash"), even Dax's beloved guitar destroyed.

OPP officers arrived, and later took pictures of the damage, which are now evidence here. But over the following days, Mr. Brown found himself being interrogated as if he were a suspect. Finally, one officer asked him outright "if I had paid someone to do this?" Mr. Brown replied by asking "if he really thought I could this to my own house."

Then, he said, "I asked 'have you interviewed anyone else back there,'" meaning on DCE, and the officer replied, "We can't do that. We can't go back and question there."

Shortly after, the family was approached about whether the police could install an alarm system and cameras at the house. Mr. Brown said he "made it very clear there were to be no cameras in my house," but readily agreed.

Days later, they discovered the tiny camera above the refrigerator, smack in the middle of their kitchen.

"I just felt betrayed," Mr. Brown said. "For all this time I had people [the protesters]staring at me through the windows, and now I have the OPP staring at me."

Another time, while he was visiting neighbours whose property also abuts the DCE, they told him there had been a lot of activity in the bush behind their house. Mr. Brown had a look, and what he saw were natives unloading rectangular-shaped wooden crates from a white Jeep into some tents along the tree line.

He worked for years at a forest-products company; the Cyrillic writing and pink and green lettering reminded him of the so-called "Baltic birch" packing crates from Russia he had seen at the yard. He phoned OPP Inspector Brian Haggith and later met him and another officer; according to Mr. Brown, "they said it was possible it could be AK-47s."

"Did the OPP pursue it?" Mr. Evans asked, and Mr. Brown answered, as he has here so many times, "To my knowledge, no."

In the summer of 2008, when tensions were high again - the natives had put up another road block - Ms. Chatwell collapsed and was taken to hospital. Mr. Brown saw her there, oxygen mask on. "I thought I was losing my wife," he said. He left the hospital immediately, fearing he was going to lose control, and once home, called Inspector Dave McLean, then the senior OPP officer, and blasted him.

By this point, Mr. Brown had heard about Dennis Brown, the lead government lawyer on the case. "I thought he was the guy making all the decisions," he said. He told Insp. McLean he would kill Mr. Brown, was "going to stick a steak knife in his heart." Insp. McLean came over to try to calm him down, left and then he had a heart attack, and Mr. Brown was filled with guilt, thinking that he'd caused it.

"This is how you get," he told Judge Bielby. "You lose your mind. You shout things out."

Mr. Brown was, of course, charged with uttering a death threat, settled with a peace bond and a year's worth of court-ordered counselling that was, government being government, cancelled partway through.

At one point, Mr. Evans asked what expectations Mr. Brown had had of the OPP.

"Well, I guess, uphold the law," he said. "Make arrests as they're supposed to be done." When he asked the police, he told the court, they often said they were there to keep the peace.

"Isn't that why we have the UN?" Mr. Brown asked. "Caledonia doesn't need peacekeepers; we need law enforcement - law, for police officers to make arrests."

Then he grinned, weakly, but a welcome sign that Dave Brown is still kicking. "I haven't had a hard time getting arrested when I lashed out," he said.

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