Caledonia family sues OPP for $12M

September 22, 2007

Hamilton Spectator


"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 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 their home.

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

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.

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

"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 two years ago, with a deck and backyard 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 24-hour 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 the street where Brown and Chatwell live. 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 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 backyard 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 told 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 becoming 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. Released in the morning, he was left to get home on his own, a 12 kilometre journey.

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."

Other claims in the lawsuit include:

At times the family was denied passage through the native barricades and couldn't get home.

Native protesters intimidated and harassed them, even threatened them with physical violence.

Natives threatened to burn down their home and take over their property.

Protesters repeatedly trespassed on the property.

Native subjected them to shouting, yelling, chanting, loud music and bright headlights shining into the home.

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 to 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, senior adviser to Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter.