MPP's support of petition draws criticism

Bu Bill Jackson - The Regional

February 25, 2009

Local individuals who back a petition calling for a provincial inquiry into the actions of the OPP and its commissioner say that the local MPP’s decision to support half of it could have more to do with politics than what’s lawful.

Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett said that he’s tried to make it clear to media outlets in the past that his support of Ken Hewitt’s petition pertains only to the second part- an inquiry into the actions of the OPP.

“It was a two part petition,” he told The Regional News. “I signed the second part with reference to an OPP inquiry.”

Background to Hewitt’s petition speaks to OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino’s support of native leaders in court and Barrett said that MPPs cannot stick their nose into court proceedings.

“I think it’s called imputing motives if I’m seen as doing this just to get Fantino,” he said.

“What was riding on this was the fact that I had to introduce a private member’s bill into the Ontario Legislature and private member’s bills get rejected if there’s any way it can be seen to influence a court proceeding.

Barrett’s legislation for a Caledonia inquiry passed a first reading last week. The Truth About Caledonia Act, 2009 calls for an inquiry “into the administration of justice, law enforcement and the ownership of land within the former Haldimand Tract and nearby areas,” according to a statement issued by Barrett last week.

“I don’t name names,” Barrett told The Regional News. “I mean, I don’t know whether Ken is intentionally avoiding looking at (former OPP Commissioner) Gwen Boniface or taking a look at whoever would be following Commissioner Fantino for example. Mine’s comprehensive, covers the waterfront. I wish to leave no stone unturned.”

Barrett said that his proposed bill could also look at police forces outside Haldimand including those presiding in Six Nations and Brantford.

However, Hewitt doesn’t want people to start splitting hairs. He believes that politicians can support his petition in its entirety.

Part of Hewitt’s frustration is watching politicians sit back and not sign his petition while Fantino is allowed to write a letter in support of natives who have committed obvious crimes.

Last summer, NDP MPP Peter Kormos said “Commissioner Fantino should either resign or be fired,” following his actions during a rail blockade near Deseronto in 2007. The matter was in the courts at the time.

“I do believe that there is hesitation on behalf of the (Progressive) Conservative Party,” Hewitt said.

Gary McHale, an activist who has played a prominent role in relation to local issues the last three years says that the PC Party is afraid of speaking out publicly against the OPP and its commissioner because the OPP is well respected in other parts of the province and criticizing the organization wouldn’t go over well with the general public.

Other MPPs have not signed Hewitt’s petition even though Barrett has suggested to them that they could also support part of it.

To them, Caledonia is just a blip compared to the big political picture, McHale argues.

McHale said that Barrett is attempting to send two messages by telling people that he supports Hewitt’s petition when he really only signed part of it. One message is to the residents of Haldimand and one is to the rest of Ontario, he said.

“You don’t support it if you support half.”

In a press release issued last week, Barrett grouped his signature with more than 5,000 others.

“At the time of writing, the petition has garnered over 5,000 signatures –one of them being my own,” he said, referring to Hewitt’s “petition that calls for an inquiry into justice issues surrounding the Caledonia land dispute.”

However, Hewitt’s petition calls for an inquiry into the actions of the OPP and Fantino, the latter of which Barrett did not support.

McHale and several others were also critical of Barrett’s call for a political inquiry into the issue of land ownership that they say has already been determined through the land titles system which the province says it stands behind. The issue, they say, is law and order.

A January 25, 2007 Federal legal response to the Haudenosaunee/Six Nations determined that “Canadian courts would find that Six Nations surrendered the Plank Road lands for sale in 1844.”

Last week, Barrett said he had never been presented with the document.

“I’d like to have something that gets out to all of us,” he said. “I represent Caledonia. I’ve never received that document.”

Barrett doesn’t expect that his Truth About Caledonia will pass a second reading. McGuinty has publicly stated that he won’t call an inquiry pertaining to Caledonia.

Still, Barrett plans to help bring Hewitt’s petition forward later this year.

“In the interim we felt it was important to keep things on the table, especially during February and March,” he said.

Hewitt encourages more people to sign his petition which has already garnered close to 7,000 names, many from outside the Haldimand area.

“The strength is the people,” he said. “It’s driven by the community and residents.”