Contain the native protest

Howard Elliott
The Hamilton Spectator
(Sep 15, 2007)

If there is anything remotely like good news out of the terrible events in Caledonia over the last couple of days, it is that the aboriginal leaders involved with the ongoing protest have strongly condemned the people and events that left a home builder in hospital suffering from serious head injuries.

We don't know the details of what happened to Sam Gualtieri when he went into the home he'd built for his daughter, and which had been occupied by native protesters.

But we know he was left bloody and unconscious. A violent, life-threatening assault took place, and needs to be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

We do applaud the Six Nations Confederacy leaders who have come out strongly calling the incident "an atrocity." They need to go further and assist police in identifying the people involved. And arrest or arrests need to be made, and if there is criminal liability, it needs to be apportioned fairly and evenly.

Since the beginning of the interminable Caledonia protest, we, like the Ontario Provincial Police, have struggled with finding the right balance between applying the law and trying to avoid escalating the conflict. No one wants another Ipperwash-like outcome.

By the same token, Caledonia and its residents have suffered immensely during these long months. They have been victims in a fight they want no part of, and over which they have little control. In some cases, there has been a double standard where residents have been forced by police to comply with laws while native protesters flout those same laws and get away with it.

Caledonia has been bullied enough. The OPP needs to adopt a new strategy to police this situation, one that is less tilted toward appeasement and more toward protecting Caledonia residents and property. The provincial and federal governments need to put new pressure on those negotiating for the native protesters, pushing them toward containment of the current protest.

Additional occupations must be discouraged at all costs, and direct police intervention to that end should be seen as a viable and perhaps even preferred option.

And under no circumstances should developers building in disputed areas along the Grand River pay so-called development fees to a new planning department established under aboriginal law.

The tactic is being called extortion, and that's not far from the truth. It's a provocative escalation that does nothing for the credibility of the native negotiators, who actually said back in May natives are interested in a land settlement, not money.

To the extent that they have any control over protesters on the ground, the native leadership needs to exercise control and restraint. No one wants another Dudley George, and no one wants, or will tolerate, another Sam Gualtieri.