Protest in Caledonia turns ugly

By KATHY RUMLESKI, FREE PRESS REPORTER

A protest over a disputed "smoke shack" at the end of Caledonia's main street turned violent yesterday, leaving two men injured and forcing Haldimand County OPP to call in reinforcements.

The clash, at the south end of Argyle Street, centred on the shack, where protesters allege natives are selling cigarettes illegally.

A lawyer for one of the injured men, Gary McHale of Richmond Hill, who has organized past protests against the native occupation of a housing development in Caledonia, said his client was badly beaten in a "completely unprovoked attack by a group of natives."

But the OPP said in a release that protesters approached the Argyle Street shack "taunting and provoking" people there.

Lawyer John Findlay said McHale was treated in hospital and released after being "swarmed by about five or six people," suffering bruised ribs, face and foot injuries.

He said the incident was captured on videotape and McHale is considering legal action.

Findlay said another man was injured when he was thrown to the ground and hit his head.

The protest against the smoke shack was not organized by his client and began peacefully, Findlay said.

OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino vowed in the release that the force, "will seek every legal remedy possible to end this madness and to bring them (protesters) to justice."

"These incidents, where interlopers put their personal agendas over those who are striving for a permanent and lasting resolution will not be tolerated," said Fantino, a former London police chief.

Findlay called the smoke shack a "bone of contention" in the town. "People have been complaining to the municipality about it. There are many residents losing patience with what's going on here."

Findlay said he believes authorities have no intention of shutting it down.

"They indicate they're investigating it . . . but nobody believes the municipality anymore and nobody believes the OPP."

Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer could not be reached for comment last night.

Police are asking anyone with photos or video of yesterday's disturbance to call 1-888-310-1122.