By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
An Ontario Provincial Police unit created to deal with First Nations protests and blockades developed “Stockholm syndrome” with the leaders behind the Six Nations land seizure of a residential development in Caledonia, Ont., a new book claims.
The recently released book, called Helpless, Caledonia’s nightmare of fear and anarchy and how the law failed all of us, was written by Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford.
The book focuses primarily on the lives of Caledonia residents who were caught in the middle of an escalating land claims battle between the Iroquois of Six Nations and the federal government that dates back 200 years and was even a file on the desk of Canada’s first prime minister.
Blatchford’s Caledonia book aims to prove that the OPP administered “two-tiered justice” that treated the First Nations protestors more favourably than the non-Aboriginal Canadians caught in the cross-fire.
The book relates stories from Caledonia residents who say they felt abandoned by the police who did little when non-Aboriginal locals faced harassment and threats from Six Nations protestors, had their cars sabotaged or rocks thrown at their homes. Caledonia residents also recounted how they felt that the police treated the non-Aboriginal residents who were simply trying to protect their property and lives like criminals.
Blatchford also delves into the workings of the Aboriginal Relations Team (ART), a special OPP unit created in 2004 in response to the shooting of Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995. Quoting unnamed and named OPP sources, Blatchford paints a picture of an ineffectual unit that appeared to have fallen under the sway of Six Nations leaders.
The Caledonia crisis exploded after the OPP botched a raid in April 2006 on Douglas Creek Estates (DCE), a nascent residential development on long-claimed land that was seized by Six Nations residents.
The ART team was led at the time of the Caledonia uprising by Dudley George’s cousin, Superintendant Ron (Spike) George, who was the head of Aboriginal Issues, Operations for the OPP.
Blatchford wrote that frontline OPP officers were beginning to wonder which side the ART team was on.
According to Blatchford, ART initially relied on four “contacts” from Six Nations and they included Dick Hill, Clyde Powless, Jesse Porter and Janie Jamieson, who was one of the original protestors to march onto DCE.
Blatchford writes that in the first years of the Caledonia crisis, George and the ART would check any planned DCE-related OPP operation with Hill.
“The OPP was essentially seeking the permission of the occupiers before taking any law-enforcement action,” writes Blatchford.
Blatchford also quotes a “well-regarded OPP officer” who says Hill vetoed numerous OPP operations.
“‘The answer was always the same: ‘If we do this there will be a huge backlash, rising tensions and the natives will have 200 men here at sunrise blocking roads,” this officer says. ‘So every operation was stood down.'”
Blatchford writes that George fell “into a posture of trying to please or appease (Hill)” and traces it back to the initial encounter between Hill and George and the discussion of an ancient battle between the Iroquois and Ojibway.
“(Hill) is alleged to have made a disparaging remark about his tribe (Iroquois) having routed George’s (Ojibway), and (Hill) said, ‘We kicked your ass hundreds of years ago, and I’ll be fucked if I negotiate with you.'”
Blatchford quotes former Windspeaker reporter Paul Barnsley, and now the head of APTN’s investigative unit, to describe Hill as a “Warrior Society member.”
Hill could not be reached for comment.
Quoting Karl Walsh, the OPP’s union head, Blatchford writes that the ART had developed “Stockholm syndrome” as a result of working too closely with the key players from Six Nations.
Stockholm syndrome is a term usually used to describe what happens to hostages who begin to empathize with their captors after a long period of captivity.
“‘(Walsh) kept hearing that the ART members were ‘talking to, cavorting with, drinking with , eating with, getting subject to Stockholm syndrome with’ the occupiers and their leaders,” writes Blatchford.
Blatchford also writes that “OPP members were also hearing reports of the ART becoming too tight with some of the less savoury characters” of the Six Nations land seizure and that the unit was withholding key intelligence from other OPP units.
ART’s actions defended by OPP
The ART no longer exists, but it became a model for the existing provincial liaison team program created to deal with all major events, including First Nations issues, dignitary visits and other situations where there is a high potential for conflict, said OPP spokesman Insp. Dave Ross.
Ross said the unit’s work in building ties to the Six Nations leadership actually “minimized the potential for violence and bloodshed in a very trying” situation.
“They did admirably well in that situation in building that trust and relationship that allows that dialogue to happen when we get to serious incidents,” said Ross.
Ross dismissed the allegations of two-tiered justice, saying that the OPP laid a total of 162 charges against 69 people in relation to incidents in and around the seized DCE territory. He said about 46 OPP officers were injured trying to keep the peace.
“It is a difficult and complex matter,” said Ross. “Our primary role is to prevent violence and keep the peace.”
Those who study and have policed conflicts between First Nations communities and the Canadian state say the OPP was caught in the middle of a volatile and political conflict that they had no ability to solve.
A security source, who requested anonymity, but was involved in the early days of Caledonia, Ipperwash and with policing the Mohawk Warrior Society, said that the Oka crisis, the Gustafson Lake conflict and Ipperwash all weighed heavily on the decisions of the OPP. The source defended the actions of George and the ART.
“The ART were really trying to embed themselves with the people in the community and the people involved in the disputes,” said the source. “What happened during Oka and Ipperwash was that communication breaks down and if you don’t know the players and they don’t know you, how do you build it? You can’t build a house when it’s burning down.”
The source said that the Six Nations leadership was also trying control a “few hotheads” within its ranks.
“Sometimes that is hard to do without inflaming things,” the source said.
The source said the OPP were facing a well-financed group that had widespread community support. There was no easy way for police to dislodge Six Nations from the DCE site so they had to adjust their response accordingly.
“Whenever you attach emotion and history to a situation, don’t expect a quick resolution and don’t think that force is going to resolve it.”
The people who lived near the conflict zone became victims of historical and political forces far outside their control, said the source.
“When you are standing in the middle of a fire, whether you put yourself there, or someone else put you there, you are going to get burned a little, it is going to be tough.”
Queen’s University military studies professor Douglas Bland says police forces in general are not equipped to deal with conflicts involving First Nations and land claims.
A situation like Caledonia cannot be treated purely as a criminal matter because it carries heavy political and historical baggage often involving a whole community, Bland said. Police in these situations have to act more like UN Peacekeepers because things could easily spread across the country.
“The police are barely trained to deal with these kinds of things and they don’t like to deal with these kinds of things,” said Bland, who recently wrote a novel on a fictitious Indigenous revolt. “The thing that you hope to do in these peacekeeping missions is to settle everybody down and put out the immediate fires and get reasonable members of both communities to sit down and sort things out…a bar fight, they can sort out, but a community in uproar, they can’t deal with it, and anyway, that is not their business.”
He said police are forced to make stark choices when it comes to keeping a lid on these sorts of situations.
“(The OPP) didn’t want this local situation to explode in their face where they couldn’t control it and they were willing to tolerate the discomfort of the Canadians who had settled on what was reserve land rather than try and force the Six Nations people to give up that,” said Bland. “(The OPP) were more willing to take the heat from citizens who took them to court and lost their houses because they knew they would be compensated, rather than get into a fight with people on the reserve, who were armed and no one knew where that would go.”