Deal tries to hush up disgrace of Caledonia

Posted on July 12, 2011 in Equality Delivery System

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Jul 11, 2011.    Christie Blatchford

The last page of the Caledonia class action settlement is the one that tells the shameful truth of what happened five years ago in that lovely small southwestern Ontario town.

The settlement was the result of a lawsuit against the government and the Ontario Provincial Police filed by 440 residents, 400 businesses and a handful of sub-contractors affected by the native occupation there five years ago.

The deal has been repeatedly portrayed purely as a “compensation” package since it was formally announced by the Ontario government last Friday.

The government’s brief press release used carefully neutral language: The settlement is called an “agreement” which “provides compensation” for those who suffered “direct losses” during the course of “the protest.”

It is, in a word, bunk.

This was not a case of a government deciding out of the goodness of its heart or through some delayed attack of conscience to pay out $20-million to the many who were terrified, hurt or debilitated by the occupation.

It was, rather, the settlement of a claim for negligence and malfeasance for the failure of the government and the OPP to properly protect citizens who lived near Douglas Creek Estates (DCE), a residential subdivision then under construction.

The timing — getting the nasty business out of the way well before this fall’s provincial election — is arguably suspicious.

It could also herald that the next penny in this ongoing drama — what will become of the old DCE lands, which the government bought from the developers for about $16-million that summer, meaning the taxpayers have owned the land for five years, and have let go to rot — is about to drop.

Certainly, Caledonia is awash in rumours that some sort of deal is in the works.

But back to the last page of the agreement.

It attempts to quantify the suffering by Caledonia residents and businesses and divides the area around the DCE occupation into six zones, and assigns numeric values to each.

Zone 1 is the highest impact zone, Zone 6 the lowest.

In Zone 1, the government acknowledges, the “impacts experienced” were: “Delegation of policing to Six Nations [the very band some of whose members, after all, led the occupation] and subjected to frequent gunfire, loud noises, smoke, verbal assaults, personal property damage, ATVs, camouflaged protesters, high volume of traffic, checkpoints.”

(Not mentioned is that at the native-run checkpoints, some residents had to show native-issued “passports” in order to get to and from their own homes, were subjected to arbitrary searches of their vehicles and that at least two were told if they wanted to go through the line, they had to submit to a body search.)

It is, to my recollection, the first explicit acknowledgement by this government that years of denials notwithstanding — that the occupiers were peaceful and any resident who claimed otherwise was a liar and inferentially also a racist — there were indeed weapons on the site and that plenty of people living nearby heard them.

The “frequent gunfire” is a feature of Zones 1-4, in fact, meaning the government acknowledges that even those who suffered only “medium” impact often heard gunfire. There are a total of 259 households who fit this description, or more than half of the residents.

This was not the first time the government has settled with Caledonians.

The two most profoundly affected — Dave Brown and his wife Dana Chatwell, who had the double misfortune of being cheek-to-jowl with DCE on two sides and of having Ms. Chatwell’s brand-new hair salon in the lower level of their house, so that they took a bath both emotional and financial — also sued the government and police.

The state fought the suit tooth and nail.

I covered every minute of the case, and will remember for the rest of my life two days — one when a government lawyer, David Feliciant, asked Ms. Chatwell if she’d been unfaithful to Mr. Brown, this in a galling attempt to damage her credibility and discredit her, the other when Mr. Feliciant, cross-examining Mr. Brown, asked why he didn’t put his video camera down when abusive, masked occupiers had surrounded his back deck.

A native woman could be heard on the tape, which was played in court, shrieking, “Stop harassing us! Put your camera away! You’re violating our rights!”

“Why wouldn’t you have put your camera down?” Mr. Feliciant asked Mr. Brown. “Clearly, you’ve agitated them.”

The government lawyer was attacking the law-abiding homeowner for daring to video those lawbreakers who were, at the very least, interfering with what’s called the peaceful enjoyment of his home.

Ultimately, the government abruptly settled the Brown and Chatwell case — the terms confidential, of course, just the way government likes it — shortly before Christmas of 2009, when a number of OPP officers were scheduled to testify.

Through the process of discovery, of course, the government knew full well these folks were going to tell the truth about the orders they had been given and the enormous frustration and embarrassment they felt about not being able to police as they ordinarily would have done, as every instinct told them to do.

There was a double standard — two-tiered or race-based policing, with natives allowed to break the law with impunity — at work in that town, in 2006 and until the present day.

Anyone who imagines Caledonia is peaceful now is correct. It is.

And that’s because non-native residents know not to even attempt to set foot on the old DCE, and so do the OPP. It is de facto Six Nations territory, won through weakness on the government side and intimidation on the other.

As ever, as at every step from the first to the latest, this story remains Ontario’s greatest modern disgrace.

Postmedia News

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