Caledonia residents rally

May 03, 2007 04:30 AM
Theresa Boyle Rob
Toronto Star

Caledonia residents, annoyed at the pace of negotiations to settle a native occupation, snarled traffic yesterday as they slowly drove to Queen's Park to call attention to their plight.

"We are tired. We want a full and complete resolution of this debacle in which we have been ensnarled over the past 15 months," Dan Roberts, one of about 100 protesters, said at a rally at the legislative building.

Residents said a "fragile peace" exists in their community and they are afraid trouble could ignite at any moment. Meantime, negotiators for the natives, province and Ottawa meet infrequently, they charge.

"The threat of blockades rising are continually on our minds and the last thing we want or need is an incident that could cause only more anguish and Caledonia's name to be smeared further," said local councillor Craig Grice.

He went on to raise questions and criticisms about the OPP.

"Residents worry about ... personal safety and question the reliability of the police to protect us, as they are met with unmitigated mistrust and in some cases outright contempt."

Grice claimed that in the last month four natives crossed a barrier to the "no go zone" and faced no recriminations.

"I need fair policing," he said.

A year ago, provincial and federal negotiators were appointed to join talks with natives.

"It has now been one full year and we wonder what has been achieved at these negotiations. The answer is nothing," said resident Michael Manning.

"Negotiations need to move at a much faster pace," he added.

Protesters carried Canadian flags and waved placards, reading: "Give us our town back. End the occupation."

Conservative MPPs, including Bob Runciman, joined the rally.

"I'm not personally a fan of negotiating with lawbreakers," he said, referring to the natives.

But Runciman went on to say that if talks are to continue, they should be conducted in a meaningful way with a mediator.

Later in the day, David Ramsay, the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, met with four Caledonia residents for about an hour and thanked them for holding a peaceful rally.

The residents asked for more compensation from the province and suggested other ways the government could help.

"It was a very patient and rational meeting," Ramsay said, noting the province has already announced "quite a bit" of compensation.

"They brought forward some ideas, how to help the community, stuff I haven't heard of before, such as extending Highway 6 through their industrial park," he added. "It would open up their industrial park area to help industrial development."

Premier Dalton McGuinty stressed that Ottawa has the lead role in negotiations to settle the Caledonia land claim.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper says "he is willing to put in place an accelerated process to deal with this issue ... I remain hopeful that will, in fact, come about," McGuinty said.

He promised to continue helping Caledonians "mitigate the stresses and strains" the occupation is causing.

"The people of Caledonia have demonstrated remarkable resilience, perseverance, patience and civility in very trying circumstances," he said, also citing provincial police on the scene.

"Some days I feel like issuing the OPP blue helmets. They are peacekeepers caught up in a difficult, protracted dispute which predates Confederation."