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Ignoring Caledonia thugs is an affront to justice

 The Gazette January 5, 2010

Montreal Gazette

 The out-of-court settlement announced Dec. 30, when nobody was looking, is good news, we suppose, for David Brown and Dana Chatwell, the Caledonia, Ont., couple whose lives were so savagely disrupted by lawlessness related to an Indian "occupation" there. But the settlement is bad news for almost everyone else.

Almost everyone. It's good news for the Ontario government, which used taxpayers' money to buy off a couple who were accusing political and police authorities of spinelessly ignoring the law because of the race of the alleged criminals. It's good news for top police brass that played the same game.

But it's bad news for Ontario taxpayers who are shelling out to cover the posteriors of politicians bowing deeply toward native truculence and thuggery masquerading as "militancy." And it's bad news for all those Canadians who will be affected in future as native groups across the country realize that they can get away with overt contempt for the law and the rights of other Canadians. From beginning to end, this case has been a disgrace.

The facts are clear: On Feb. 28, 2006, Indians occupied a subdivision building site, to which the developer had clear title. The occupiers claimed some extra-legal ancient right to the land. The Ontario Provincial Police and their masters the provincial government quickly decided that enforcing the law might cause trouble. Instead of expelling the squatters, they tolerated thug-like acts of violence in the early days of the dispute, and finally bought the land - with taxpayers' money - from the developer.

Brown and Chatwell, whose home was adjacent to the occupied zone, tried to keep living there but a long list of intimidation tactics - from spotlights at night to threats of murder and arson - made their lives miserable. No wonder they sued the province and the OPP for $7 million in damages.

We don't blame them, finally, for taking the settlement (in an undisclosed amount) that the government offered. To get it, they had to abandon any claim of government or police wrongdoing. But the failure to perform a basic duty remains obvious for all to see. Across Canada, Indian chiefs - already threatening a summer of "direct action" unless governments agree to "consult" with them on a laundry-list of grievances - will be taking note that ultimately even the politicians who govern Canada's biggest province will jump through hoops to avoid having to make Indians obey the law. The summer will not be any more tranquil because of this settlement.

This is, fortunately, not the kind of decision-making we see in the case of, say, urban street gangs, which police across Canada pursue assiduously. But governments across Canada walk on tiptoes whenever natives take the law into their own hands.

Natives across Canada have a range of legitimate grievances. But there are procedures for dealing with everyone's grievances according to the rule of law, and the days when the courts belonged to "whites" alone are long gone.

By backing away from even-handed enforcement of basic criminal law all through the Caledonia affair, Premier Dalton McGuinty and his government have damaged the fabric of the rule of law itself. What a disgrace.