496 days of hell

Frustrated Caledonia couple living behind barricades at Douglas Creek Estates sues OPP, province for $12 million. They claim police spied on them and failed to protect them from harassment during 18-month native occupation

Paul Morse
The Hamilton Spectator
CALEDONIA (Sep 22, 2007)

"We've had enough. We want our lives back."

For months, Dave Brown lived behind the barricades of the native standoff in Caledonia with his partner Dana Chatwell and their teenage son.

Healthy and happy before natives occupied the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision in February last year, Brown says his family can now barely function.

Yesterday, the couple launched a $12-million lawsuit against the Ontario Provincial Police and the provincial government.

They claim, among a host of other allegations, that the OPP and Queen's Park breached their duty to protect them by allowing natives to harass the family.

Their most startling claim, though, is that the OPP secretly installed a hidden surveillance camera inside the family's home.

At a press conference in downtown Hamilton yesterday, the couple released video images they claim were in a VCR hooked up to a thumb-sized camera hidden on a cabinet shelf above their kitchen refrigerator.

The allegations in the statement of claim against the province, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, former Commissioner Gwen Boniface and OPP Inspector Brian Haggith were filed yesterday in Cayuga and have yet to be proven in court.

The couple is also suing for negligence, false imprisonment, assault, trespass and breach of their Charter rights and freedoms.

See exclusive video from Brown-Chatwell home at thespec.com

"We want to enjoy our lives again, which we haven't been able to do in 496 days," Brown said.

Brown, 40, and Chatwell, 44, bought the acre-lot home at the corner of Argyle Street and 6th Line two years ago, with a deck and back yard abutting the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision on two sides.

Because the property was commercially zoned, Chatwell opened her Shear Body Sense salon in the basement, with five employees. Brown worked for a forestry and building supply company in Caledonia.

When native protesters first occupied the development on Feb. 28 last year, Brown said police provided around-the-clock protection at the home.

That ended after heavily armed OPP officers raided the site on April 20 and carted off native protesters, touching off a massive standoff. Natives poured onto the site and blockaded major routes around the subdivision, including Argyle Street. The OPP pulled back from the site and suddenly the family was forced to cross police lines and native barricades to get to and from their home.

That's when the family's nightmare kicked into high gear.

"The natives made us a 'passport' signed by Mohawk security with our address on it," Brown said yesterday.

Natives searched their car and sometimes took items out of their trunk, including groceries, he added.

The couple's statement of claim to the court alleges native protesters engaged in extreme lawless conduct and, because the OPP did not stop it, the family was left living in fear for their personal safety.

Their lawsuit also alleges police illegally surveilled the inside of their home after it was broken into and vandalized.

The family allowed police to install a surveillance camera on their back yard deck, hooked up to motion sensor lights when they left for a Christmas holiday. They gave police keys to the home and left.

When the couple returned and decided to put their property up for sale, police called to tell them they had installed a camera in the downstairs salon.

However, the couple was sitting with a friend in their kitchen "when we heard a humming noise," Brown said. He looked up and saw a tiny camera hidden behind some artificial flowers on a shelf above the kitchen fridge, connected to a VCR with a tape in it that looped every 48 hours.

"The police's excuse to us was that they didn't think we would ever be coming back to our house," he said.

The lawsuit also claims Brown was falsely thrown in jail after a confrontation between a forklift driver and natives who came onto his property.

It alleges natives forced Brown into their vehicle and took him to the police lines where they told the OPP he had been trespassing and had assaulted them. An OPP officer arrested Brown, and ordered him thrown in jail.

When Brown argued he was the victim, "that officer became angry and stated that Brown had to be imprisoned because of the way Brown spoke to him," the lawsuit alleges.

He spent the night in jail, but was not charged. He was released in the morning.

The stress of the situation impacted on Brown's work performance to the point the company fired him, the lawsuit claims. Brown has since filed a separate wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the firm.

John Evans, the couple's lead litigator, said the family has been denied access to their home in the most outrageous conditions.

"There has been consistent unlawful behaviour causing huge loss to these people, and they are unprotected," Evans said.

"Police will not go on their property to protect them from these activities."

Yesterday, Chatwell said police stopped her at the barricades one night and refused to allow her vehicle through.

"Police made me walk home, which was about a quarter mile away from the barricades, when the town was having a rally," she said.

"They would not walk with me in the dark."

OPP spokesperson Inspector Dave Ross said yesterday, "We are aware of that civil suit and are unable to provide any information to you given it is an ongoing legal matter."

A spokesperson for provincial minister in charge of policing also declined comment.

"Given the fact that this is a case that is before the courts ... we wouldn't be making a comment on it at this time," said Dylan Blain.