It’s simple, really. Enforce the law [Caledonia]

Posted on January 2, 2010 in Equality Debates – Opinion/Editorial – It’s simple, really. Enforce the law.
Posted: January 02, 2010.

From Dave Brown’s and Dana Chatwell’s perspective, settling their lawsuit against the Ontario Provincial Police and provincial government, as they did Wednesday, makes perfect sense. The Caledonia, Ont., couple only ever wanted the means to move out of the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision, which the government essentially ceded to native protesters in 2006. They’ve already bought a new house, and Mr. Brown says he hopes never again to see the old one. (The actual amount of the settlement won’t be disclosed.)

For society at large, however, this is a most unsatisfying outcome. The Liberal government has never been able to argue coherently, in or out of court, against Mr. Brown’s and Ms. Chatwell’s basic version of events: that their family and home were abandoned to the caprices of often-intimidating protesters whose appalling conduct the police refused to … well, to police. This shocking abdication of the government’s most basic responsibilities deserves a stern rebuke from the highest court available: The government cannot decline to enforce the law and protect its citizens simply because it might anger a certain segment of society or create an uncomfortable political situation.

We weren’t going to get that satisfaction from the civil suit, of course, but a humiliating finding against the government and in Mr. Brown’s and Ms. Chatwell’s favour would have been gratifying. Now we won’t get it. And we won’t hear allegedly damning testimony from OPP officers that they had indeed been given orders to stand back and let events unfold as they may. That testimony, which was to be heard next week, is the best explanation available as to why the government suddenly decided to settle.

Less clear — baffling, in fact — is why it chose to defend this indefensible case so fearsomely in the first place. It was half way to sweeping the whole mess under the rug when it bought out the developers of the disputed land for $12-million in 2006. For some fraction of that amount, it could have finished the job and bought out Mr. Brown and Ms. Chatwell. Instead it spent untold heaps of taxpayer money putting them through the ringer, all the while shining a blinding spotlight on its own spineless ineptitude, and then cut Mr. Brown and Ms. Chatwell a cheque.

The problem is not that the Ontario Liberals’ spineless ineptitude has been exposed. In fact, that’s one of the few upsides. The problem is that future governments may learn from the Liberals’ mistake — if native protesters occupy some land, they may just buy out its rightful owners and let them have it. Better that than another Ipperwash, right? That’s no way to run a province. Men and women who lack the stomach to enforce the law, always and equitably, have no business holding public office. That’s the real lesson of Caledonia.

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