Columnist Christie Blatchford has written extensively in The Globe and Mail about the native occupation in Caledonia, Ont. Her new book, Helpless, chronicles the events surrounding the occupation, and how the provincial government and law enforcement responded to the crisis. She writes in her introduction, "What this book is really about is the failure of government to govern and protect all its citizens equally."
She responded to readers' questions in an online discussion about Caledonia.
Christie won the 1999 National Newspaper Award for column-writing, and her book about Canadian soldiers, Fifteen Days, Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army, won the Governor-General's Award for non-fiction. Her new book will be in bookstores on Tuesday.
Globe and Mail: Hello. Christie Blatchford is now joining us to take your questions about Caledonia. I'd like to start today's discussion with a comment from a reader identified as Meduim size red: "I would like to hear how Stephen Harper can justify bringing Mr Fantino in as a candidate given what has happened and still continues to occur in Caledonia. I have always felt that the provincial Liberals and the OPP have abandoned the people of Caledonia, and now it appears that Stephen Harper has as well by welcoming Mr. Fantino into the Conservative fold."
Christie, what is your response to this reader's comment?
Christie Blatchford: I agree with you. Sadly, the Tories' overly simplistic views of law and order means Fantino is a fine fit.
Globe and Mail: We have received several comments that point a finger at Dalton McGuinty for his role in Caledonia. Would you care to comment on the role the Premier played?
Christie Blatchford: The Premier's role on Caledonia has been to stay as far under the radar as possible, as evidenced by the fact that during the first and worst months (years) of the occupation, he was nowhere to be seen.
Globe and Mail: Here's a question from Ben: Do you agree that had prov and fed govts respected aboriginal land rights and treaties, this issue would never have arisen?
Christie Blatchford: Ben, not sure you can say that about this case in particular -- Ottawa has never recognized this claim -- but insofar as the role that aboriginal anger probably played in the occupation, yes. And the pace of land claims is disgraceful.
Globe and Mail: Here's a question from Christine Gibson: I was just wondering if Christie actually interviewed any native inhabitants of Caledonia. I was also wondering how much time Christie actually spent in Caledonia.
Christie Blatchford: Hi Christine. Since I was telling the story of the breakdown of the rule of law -- which means it's about government and police failures -- I interviewed few from Six Nations. But a key few -- Chief Bill Montour among them.
Daniel Wilson: Based on the printed excerpt of your book - in which you use solely non-Aboriginal sources, present a thesis that the federal and provincial governments have failed non-Aboriginal residents over the past four years but ignore the decades during which the rule of law has been denied to First Nations, and demonstrate a lack of legal scholarship and historical knowledge by referring to the Six Nations land claim as both "tenuous" and brought "belatedly" - one might conclude that your work is one-sided and perhaps racist. How would you respond to this perception?
Christie Blatchford: First, I'd say read the book. One excerpt doesn't do it. But beyond that, the book's not about the claim. It's about the lawlessness and violence which police and government enabled. I don't purport to be writing a treatise on Six Nations, land claims or the Plank Road claim in particular. What I'm writing about I know something about -- the rule of law. Cheers.
Dave: Can you tell me why there is no analysis on colonialism and its ongoing effects in this country. Other nations are truely on the path to healing and reconciling the wrongs of the past while Canada continues to act out a British legacy of dominance, control, and vilification of any indigenous people who stand up for themselves. All of this is connected to Caledonia, a new housing development on an active land claim. This seems to be more of the same, indigenous people in the way of development so the rich interests, who have historically been in control, can continue to deepen their wealth.
Christie Blatchford: Hi Dave. No analysis if colonialism in my book. I quite agree. But I don't pretend it's not in the background; it is of course. But there are other people better able to speak to this than me. My book is about a narrow slice, a current event.
Mike: Why is the government so afraid to apply our laws equally? Will Oka and Iperwash forever trump the rights of non-Natives?
Christie Blatchford: I think you've hit the nail on the head Mike -- at Queen's Park, they were so terrified of another Dudley George they were paralyzed by fear. But in between sending in troops with guns blazing, and anarchy, there's a nice middle road -- arresting lawbreakers, regardless of race; upholding the law. The OPP behaved as though, the raid having failed, they could never again do anything at DCE. Ridiculous.
Anne: Do you think the reluctance to do anything is directly attributed to the Dudley George shooting?
Christie Blatchford: I do think that, Anne. The Liberals were in Opposition then. They raised the shooting (when are you going to have an inquiry? Etc) in the Legislature almost every day. The issue was integral to the McGuinty 'brand', if you like, and once elected, he called that inquiry. The government's lack of action, and abandonment of the town can in my view only be explained by their fear.
Kelly: I have really enjoyed your coverage on this. Do you think the family that settled out of court came out ok in the end?
Don F: I followed your story Christie and as always enjoyed your reporting. What the heck is going on with this Government and with us as citizens to allow this to happen. We should be storming the halls of Parliament and demanding answers as well as a fix. Thank God that Mr. Brown had the courage to sue. That's a start.
Christie Blatchford: Hi Kelly. I think the settlement the Browns got would have been wonderful if Queen's Park had given it early on, when it became clear to the government that they were going to throw this family (and others) under the proverbial bus. Four years later, after their lives were ruined, they were bankrupt, after government lawyers had essentially admitted in court the essential allegations, the settlement was a disgrace. Thanks Don, and yes, Mr. Brown and his wife have big balls. And they were desperate. And they had good lawyers.
Scott: First Nations have parallel legal systems, including quasi-courts and their own police services. I am wondering if you have an opinion on this? Do you believe it contributes in some way to the lawlessness among the First Nations people at this occupation? Thanks, and looking forward to reading your book.
Christie Blatchford: Hi Scott. I'm not troubled by the notion of First Nations having their own police, and the Six Nations force is an excellent and highly professional one. So far as I know, healing circles and the like are considered options within the mainstream justice system, and so long as that remains so, I think it's fine. Where we'd be on shakier ground is with separate, free standing justice systems.
Steve: Christie, Thanks for having this discussion today. I find it troubling that the discussion focuses on the rights of non-Natives in Caledonia (surely an important concern) but does not acknowledge that Natives feel their rights have been trampled by the land development (no matter what you think about the claim itself). Could the protest be considered an exercise of civil disobedience? Would that change the way that that you have analyzed it?
Christie Blatchford: Hi Steve. The book addresses that natives were worried about the impact of the development. So were non-native residents and MPP Toby Barrett. But I don't consider torching a bridge, destroying a hydro transformer or scaring the bejesus out of locals civil disobedience.
Jeff: Do you feel as though political correctness, and the fear of being seen as racist, has resulted in a censure of reporting such as yours (and by extension, a freeze on racially blind law enforcement)? A lot of commenters here seem to think that it was OK for the aboriginals to seize Douglas Creek, because of their (unrecognized) historic claims, even though another ethnic group (Caucasian, Chinese, etc) would never be permitted to have done so.
Christie Blatchford: I don't think it's political correctness, just, on the part of politicians, political cowardice, and, for the rest of us, that Canadian reluctance to acknowledge the elephants in the room -- in this case, the appalling pace of land claim negotiations and overt native lawlessness.
Globe and Mail: We have come to the end of our time for today's online discussion. Thanks to Christie for joining us and thanks all who participated. We received many more questions than we could possibly post. Sorry we couldn't post them all.
Christie Blatchford: Thanks for the thoughtful questions folks. Appreciate it.