Land claims beyond fishbowl: OPP commander

by Bill Jackson - Regional News

July 8, 2009

Haldimand's new interim OPP Detachment Commander, John Periversoff is still being briefed about local matters such as native smoke shacks and the formation of Caledonia's community peacekeeping group.

He wouldn't comment specifically on either issue during a meeting last week with members of the media, but he believes that minority groups in Haldimand and Six Nations are speaking on behalf of larger segments of the community.

Periversoff has taken over for outgoing Detachment Commander, Dave McLean who will officially retire later this month. The new appointee would like to work at creating better communication, tolerance and inclusiveness, to help refocus the land claims issue back to where it should be.

"I believe that the people of Caledonia and Haldimand County are in a fish bowl right now and they've lost perspective. This is a land claims issue that goes well beyond Caledonia."

Periversoff told the press that groups on both sides of local issues see an opportunity to gain notoriety and are often "lightning rods" for bad things.

"the measure is, what good are they bringing to the community to help us become cohesive again,, to help Haldimand and Six Nations return to the community that they had,  three, for, eight years ago? That becomes the litmus test," he said.

"I think to my father and certainly I who served for the military. I have friends over in Afghanistan right now as we speak and I can tell you unequivocally that they're not saying, 'Well, I'm fighting for this group in Canada or I'm fighting for that group in Canada.' These soldiers, these warriors, whatever you want to call them, are fighting to counteract terrorism on behalf of all Canadians."

Periversoff wouldn't speak directly to the notion of two-tiered law enforcement that many people believe is being practiced by the OPP here in Haldimand. The same perception was once floated by the head of the Ontario Provincial Police Association.

"I can tell you, certainly as a middle-ranked OPP officer, that my policing is straight across the board," Periversoff told a media gathering at the OPP detachment.

"I don't believe two-tiered policing ever existed," he added.

"I believe there are perceptions of it. Certainly if you go to Six Nations, I'm sure they would say that there was two-tiered policing and that they're getting the brunt of policing. We always tend to look inside and not at the big picture."

Periversoff said that 61 people are facing 171 charges relating to the Caledonia land claim.

"I don't see how that is two-tier. From my position I treat everybody with the same courtesies they can expect from a law enforcement officer. I temper my enforcement, try to be reasonable and sometimes you have to do what you have to do because of the situation."

Periversoff  is a London resident whose last posting as a police officer was in Owen Sound. More recently he filled in for McLean a leave of absence from November, 2008 until January, 2009.

"I'm here as the police leader in this community, responsible for policing in Haldimand County and all policing issues... I think there's a need to assume a greater responsibility in terms of stepping out as perhaps a civic leader because I've seen what has happened in this community."

Periversoff grew up in Galt and interacted with the local community in his youth and said he takes the current state of affairs to heart. He recalled playing football in Brantford as a young man with aboriginal and non-aboriginal players.

"The whole notion of football is you're fighting for 10 yards at a time, 10 yards of land at a time. But you're fighting side by side and the goal of the game is to work together so the team wins. And I thought, 'What a wonderful notion to apply in terms of a real basic metaphor to where we should be heading here.' We should be working along with not only Six Nations, but those that are disaffected, or challenged in the community."

Haldimand's Police Services Board will be part of a process that will seek to find a permanent replacement for McLean. Periversoff would not commit to wanting the job after his tenure here is up.