"The OPP allowed this to escalate without intervening"

Caledonia protest turns ugly

Dec 3, 2007
Brantford Expositor

Another Caledonia clash involving Gary McHale has OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino fuming.

The clash between Caledonia residents and natives near the Douglas Creek Estates site occurred Saturday morning after people gathered to protest a disputed smoke shack on Argyle Street.

More than 100 people shouted and shoved each other, resulting in at least two men being injured, including McHale, during the melee.

A furious Fantino promised in a news release that the OPP will "seek every legal remedy possible to end this madness and to bring (the protesters) to justice."

Fantino said there will be no tolerance for "interlopers" with personal agendas when others are working for a permanent and lasting resolution.

Caledonia resident Doug Fleming invited people to join him at 10 a.m. Saturday to protest the smoke shack's encroachment into the community.

protest advertised

"This is about unscrupulous people exploiting the fact that the OPP is unwilling to enforce the law," Fleming wrote on the Internet beforehand. "This isn't complicated. The shacks will continue to pop up like boils until someone stops them. That someone is us."

The protest was advertised in a Caledonia newspaper and the police were well aware it was occurring, said a Haldimand OPP spokesperson. While events started off calmly and slowly, at the height of the melee there were 60 to 80 Caledonia residents and 40 natives facing off, said an eyewitness.

When McHale - a well-known protester from Richmond Hill - and Mark Vandermaas arrived at the site, things appeared to escalate, said the witness. The two men were arrested last December for breaking the peace when they tried to plant Canadian flags on the Douglas Creek site.

"There was a lot of hollering of abuse and 'One law for all,'" said Jim Windle, a non-native reporter who was covering the event for the Tekawennake, a weekly Six Nations paper.

Windle said the police eventually had to shut down the road for safety. When one or two cars tried to make their way through in various directions, they were stopped by protesters.

"That was a flash-point," said Windle. "The OPP allowed this to escalate without intervening."

He said about eight officers were on the scene at the beginning of the protest but another 10 arrived to help as things escalated.

A sudden surge in the crowd meant that the police were suddenly on the outside of the circle and people began attacking McHale, he added.

"It looked like a rugby scrum and out from one end of the pile-up came McHale, all bloodied up."

Windle said a McHale acquaintance who was videotaping the event was either pushed or tripped and went down, cracking his head on the pavement. The man seemed to be unconscious for "a long time."

Ambulances came for some of the injured while others were removed in police cars.

John Findlay, McHale's lawyer, said his client was badly beaten in a "completely unprovoked attack by a group of natives."

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

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

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

Natives at the Douglas Creek Estates - occupied since February 2006 - threw up barricades across the highway again, reminiscent of the blockade last year, but removed them down later in the afternoon.

McHale, who has been criticized for stirring up trouble and then retreating to his Richmond Hill home, is now planning to move to Caledonia, likely before Christmas.

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."

Sgt. Dave Rektor said charges are pending, but did not indicate whether it was for protesters or Six Nations.

McHale said Sunday that after he left hospital, he went to a provincial police station, where he was told he had been accused of assault.

A news release from Haldimand OPP invites anyone with video or still photographs of the event to forward them to police or call 1-888-310-1122.