Taking It To The Street


Why such contradictory OPP approaches to the two native protests?

By Susanna Kelley

Susanna KelleyThere's been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth recently since the announcement of the Ontario Liberal government's $20 million settlement with the good burghers and residents of Caledonia.

The money settles a lawsuit brought by those who believed they've suffered under the five-year land occupation, or reclamation, depending on which side you sit, of the Douglas Creek Estates by members of the Six Nations Confederacy.  The subdivision is part of a seemingly never-ending land dispute.   

There has been much outrage by some members of the public and the media over the fact the Ontario Provincial Police under three successive Commissioners, including law and order hardliner Julian Fantino, did not evict them. If their skin was white, they say, the police would have removed the aboriginal protesters long ago.

The police and the Ontario Liberal government have been accused of a double standard. 

In Caledonia, it's been a careful, hands-off approach by the OPP. 

But when it came to protests over a stalled land claim involving the so-called Culbertson Tract property, the same force has been sending in its most heavily armed officers time after time to clear protests, sometimes violently.

One of the most chilling was an under-reported five days of protest in April of 2008.  

The OPP sent heavily armed officers, who, according to court testimony, pointed a variety of guns at two civilians and arrested them when they desperately rushed to a protest site after hearing their son had been killed.

Rhonda and James Kunkel say they've never had anything to do with native protests.

But Ms. Kunkel had gotten the call saying her son Matthew had been fatally shot:



James Kunkel said he tried to reason with the police when they drove up to the site:


The Kunkels were both taken to jail, where they were held for about six hours until released without any charges being laid.

And in the most hair-raising moment, tape played in court showed one officer mistakenly calling out during the protest that he'd seen a "long gun on the hill." Witnesses said officers immediately opened the trunks of their cruisers, pulled out a cache of guns and trained them on a youth on the hill.  Despite the fact that the first officer quickly corrected himself, saying it was only a stick, the OPP continued to train their weapons on the protesters and, in fact, called for more backup.

What makes this so scary is that it's an almost identical replay of what happened at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995 when native protester Dudley George was shot.  An officer thought he'd seen a gun and began firing.

All of the above facts in the Tyendenaga incidents have been independently verified in an extensive - and again, under-reported - investigation  by Amnesty International.  The group just recently called for an independent inquiry into the way the OPP handled the Tyendenaga protests.



The 2008 incident is far from the only time the OPP has used the threat of firepower to try to break an aboriginal protest near Tyendenaga.

In June of 2007, the OPP, again under then-Commissioner Fantino, ordered in sharpshooters - the Tactical Rescue Unit; the riot squad (known formally as the Public Order Unit); the Emergency Response Team - all heavily armed - and called for armoured personnel carriers on the Aboriginal Day of Action.   

OPP scribe notes show former Commissioner Fantino threatened a pre-dawn raid on a barricade put up on the 401 by Mohawk Warriors.  Community residents quote him saying he was going in even if there were women and children behind the barricades, as they chose to be there.  The raid was only called off when the Incident Commander on site decided he was "not about to put people at risk for a piece of pavement" and Fantino agreed to allow him the final decision. 

As part of a documentary I was doing for CBC Radio's The Current at the time, I spent that night behind the barricades with the Mohawk Warriors. The protest was completely peaceful, and the Mohawks had stated publicly the barricades would be up for 24 hours at most. 

In fact, they took them down after about nine hours; in time for Ontarians to get an early morning start to the cottage on the holiday weekend.

And so, the big mystery: why such polar opposite approaches from the OPP when it comes to native protests in Tyendenaga and Caledonia?  Privately, even some OPP officers say they're puzzled.

Both groups were members of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy.

Both groups had taken control of long-disputed land where negotiations with the government had stalled for years.

Both groups included traditional, peaceful Mohawks as well as a more aggressive Mohawk Warrior faction.

Both approaches - the kid gloves treatment in Caledonia versus repeatedly calling in the sharpshooters in Tyendenaga - occurred under former OPP Commissioner Mr. Julian Fantino's watch.

It's possible we will never know why. 

Mr. Fantino, the OPP and the Liberals aren't talking.

Now a federal Conservative cabinet minister, Mr. Fantino turned down numerous requests for interviews from this reporter and from Amnesty International for five years.

The provincial government and the OPP stonewalled Amnesty's repeated Freedom of Information requests and fought every FOI appeal for three years, says Neve.

Successive Ontario Community Safety Ministers Rick Bartollucci and Jim Bradley have repeatedly refused to meet with Amnesty, he adds.

Meanwhile, in Caledonia, the OPP continue to look the other way.

The average man or woman on the street be forgiven for thinking this is the real double standard.


About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : July 18, 2011

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