Comment - Staying tuned for 2010

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

January 6, 2010

While reviewing 2009, it was interesting to note that our first story last January was about a petition created by a local man, requesting a public inquiry into the actions of the OPP and its Commissioner, Julian Fantino. One could argue that a lot has happened during the past year, but we're really no further ahead in the big picture.

The petition ended up garnering 6000 signatures and was presented to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario by MPP Toby Barrett. However, many  people complained and wrote letters to the editor, stating that the last thing they wanted was more political interference, especially following recommendations out of the Ipperwash Inquiry - an investigation driven by the McGuinty Government that many people blame for today's flawed, two-tiered policing protocol.

Numerous attempts by Opposition MPPs and local residents to trigger a public inquiry have fallen on deaf ears, and police and government officials still continue to turn a blind eye to crimes here in Haldimand.

The lawsuit launched by Dave Brown, Dana Chatwell and their son Dax opened the door for the family to get out of Dodge, but it was also an opportunity for the public - including some police officers - to seek liability in an unbiased, judicial forum, and hope for change.

Brown and Chatwell launched the multi-million dollar suit against the government and its police force for misfeasance and failing to protect their family and home which abuts the Douglas Creek Estates property that's been occupied by native protesters since 2006.

We recently learned that the province reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs.

The news is great for Brown and Chatwell, and long overdue. But for the rest of us - including all Ontarians and Canadians for that matter - the lawsuit represented a tremendous opportunity that will now go unrealized.

The lawsuit was unique because it was basically divided into two main groups of defendants - namely the provincial government and provincial police. Surely, given the first few weeks of testimony in late 2009, any decision would have entailed some stern directives from a Superior Court Justice. According to media reports, the damning testimony of local residents and police officers clearly demonstrated that there were some problems up top. At the very least, dysfunction was clearly evident from testimony at the trial.

In the foreseeable future, however, the cat and mouse game will continue.

There's the Caledonia Class Action lawsuit taken on behalf of businesses and residents in Caledonia. It moved forward to a certification hearing in 2009 and a decision is expected soon. There's also legal recourse being undertaken by well-known activist Gary McHale on several fronts. Another case involved local homebuilder Sam Gualtieri who was beaten almost to death by protesters in 2007.

Yet if the province continues to settle with plaintiffs, there may never be an unbiased review of how matters were handled here in Caledonia during the past several years. That has wide reaching ramifications not only for Caledonia, but any community in Ontario that may have to deal with native disputes in the future.

There are also several questions that remain as a result of the recent settlement.

One common argument for allowing Caledonia residents to suffer next to Douglas Creek Estates the past few years was that it would be difficult to draw a line between people affected by the land dispute. There are still homes on Sixth Line without policing. Other families off Braemar Avenue and Thistlemoor Drive abut the DCE occupation and homes are devalued. Nearby stores and restaurants have lost money.

Brown and Chatwell plan to move within the town, but due the fact that financial details of the settlement are being kept under wraps, it's also uncertain what will become of their old home.

Stay tuned in 2010.