Petition aims to trigger public inquiry; oust Fantino

By Bill Jackson - The Regional

January 7, 2009

A local man who was a spokesperson for the Caledonia Citizens Alliance during the height of the Douglas Creek Estates conflict that began back in 2006, has started a petition that calls on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to immediately launch a public inquiry into the actions of the Ontario Provincial Police during the past three years, as well as decisions made by Commissioner Julian Fantino.

"I really believe that he's crossed the line," said Ken Hewitt, who is critical of the commissioner's "nauseating" support of a native activist who  played a key role in the land dispute.

Last month Fantino appeared in court as a character witness for Clyde Powless who was charged with assault and mischief for his role in a 2007 smoke shack protest on Argyle Street South.

In a letter to the court, Fantino blamed non-native activist Gary McHale for much of the conflict in Caledonia.

"As well, I wish to advise the Honourable Court that on a number of occasions Mr. Powless has been instrumental in diffusing serious conflict and confrontation," it reads, "during which times he has actually been the peacemaker."

However, after witnessing many events during the past three years with his own eyes, Hewitt argues that hasn't been the case.

"I saw (Powless) on the street directing traffic, particularly the back hoe to dig up a road," he said. 'I saw him on other occasions where it was his vehicle tied to a hydro tower, dragging it across the road. He made the insinuation that water and hydro could be targeted if there was resistance… All these things have taken place over the course of the three years and that is the person that Fantino is putting a letter of support in for…"

The petition, now being circulated throughout Ontario, says that Fantino "is no longer unbiased or neutral… he also uses his position to support (native leaders) in court against charges by his own police force."

"You can't on one hand dictate to the public that you're making arrests, and you're pushing and prompting your officers to go out there and  make arrests, and then turn around and cut their legs out from under them by submitting letters of support for the very people they're arresting," Hewitt stated in an interview.

The petition asks for Fantino's "immediate suspension without pay and upon confirmation of the fact, his immediate resignation." It also blames the OPP for violating and ignoring rules and guidelines set out by a number of statutes including the Criminal code and the Ontario Police Services Act following "flawed results and recommendations in the Ipperwash Inquiry."

Hewitt hopes to gain the support of politicians including Haldimand_Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, Mp Diane Finley, and ultimately the Premier of Ontario. Two local councillors have already signed the petition and Hewitt will also be seeking council's support at an upcoming meeting.

In addition to Hewitt there are several community members helping to get the message out, including Dave Brown who lives next to the native land occupation in Caledonia and initially came up with the idea.

"What started it was the letter of support for Powless," he said.

Brown and his wife, Dana Chatwell have endured three years of strife next door to a place where police officers are not allowed to go.

That's something that one officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, calls "ridiculous."

"I know of at least a dozen officers who are chomping at the bit to get up on the stand and tell the truth about what's been going on here," the officer told The Regional News.

Hewitt pointed out that it isn't just his petition.

"I've started it but it's taking its own legs," he said. "It's a unity of people that share the same agenda… We're getting a lot of momentum from people outside of Caledonia who are signing it and people who are signing it just because they don't like the fact that Fantino thinks he can legislate law."

Fantino has been criticized in the past for a strong-arm approach to law enforcement.

In an email disclosed in court and circulated by Gary McHale, Fantino directed senior officers to ignore "legal nuances" in order to lay charges against him. More recently Fantino has been accused of orchestrating "political prosecution" against some of his own officers outside of Haldimand, according to an article last week in The Toronto Star.

Fantino also wrote a letter to Haldimand Council, threatening to remove the OPP from the county and MPP Toby Barrett was the recipient of a controversial letter from the commissioner that was never released, but deemed improper.

Hewitt is hoping that people put their name on the petition.

"It's not about land claims, it's not about the natives. In fact it has nothing to do with them whatsoever. It has everything to do with the choices that the OPP are making currently and could make in the future and I think they have to take a harder look at how they deal with aboriginal issues in the future… The idea is that you don't have two communities running into a head-on collision. Well that obviously failed in this case because the OPP and their effort didn't prevent Caledonia and Six Nations from colliding. So there has to be a better way, and I think as taxpayers we have to take a look at it."

The petition can be signed online at www.petitiononline.com or on facebook.com by doing a site search for "Fantino petition." It is being circulated throughout Haldimand County and it can also be obtained by contacting Dave Brown at 905-765-6209.