'Helpless': book about Caledonia's struggle

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

Sept. 1, 2010

Those who've followed story lines since the Douglas Creek Estates native occupation began in 2006, and especially those who haven't, should mark Oct. 26th on their calendars.

That's the day award-winning author, columnist and longtime Globe and Mail court reporter Christie Blatchford will release her latest book called Helpless - Caledonia's nightmare of fear and anarchy, and how the law failed all of us.

Blatchford was in town back in 2006 when the barricades on Argyle Street came down, however she went to Afghanistan that summer and her focus didn't return to Caledonia until the following year when she began to document the lives of Dave Brown and Dana Chatwell - the local couple who lived next to the occupation and launched a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the OPP and provincial government.

After covering the trial last year, Blatchford admits to becoming "completely obsessed" with the issues surrounding the rule of law, and lack thereof.

Although several local newspapers reported most of the issues facing Caledonia, the whole story wasn't being properly told by the national press and Toronto media, Blatchford contends.

Before she left for Vancouver to cover the Winter Games she had committed to pen a book about the Canadian justice system, but instead told her publisher that her heart was in Caledonia.

"I found it breathtaking and that's how I wrote about it," she said.

"I hope it wakes people up to the untold story of the Caledonia occupation... It's pretty much a reporting book."

Some of the biggest eye openers during the past four-and-a-half years were what Blatchford describes as "flagrant" and "egregious" breaches of the law in the presence of police officers who did nothing to prevent crimes or hold culprits responsible.

She deems police response in many criminal acts "outrageous" because they occurred on private properties and in areas where native protesters didn't even have the "flimsy" justification of a land claim.

The province continually used aboriginal land claims as an excuse for what was going on, Blatchford noted. The inaction of the Ontario Provincial Police was often followed by their statements that denied such occurrences ever took place and attempted to justify their roles as "peacekeepers".

Blatchford recalled the sentiment of a colleague while covering the Paul Bernardo trial when she was becoming increasingly frustrated with the perception that Karla Homolka was a victim.

While Blatchford does not discount the injustices suffered by native communities throughout history, "This view of natives as victims - one dimensional people incapable of doing wrong - is condescending and wrong," she determined.

Blatchford has spoken with more than 45 different people in Caledonia, many of whom she said were frank, engaged, straightforward characters, who didn't shoot BS.

"There's something about being out of Toronto," she joked, adding that Caledonia is a "good, honest place" that was and is - and I'm paraphrasing - "screwed by the government."

Over the past couple of years Blatchford has become quite well acquainted with the likes of local activists Gary McHale, Merlyn Kinrade, Doug Fleming and Mark Vandermaas and said she's gained a lot of respect for them and their work to keep local issues on the front burner.

It's hard to say what's at the root of Caledonia's problems, Blatchford said.

"It's government or policing, or both," she believes.

"The root cause is fear, politically or otherwise of aboriginal activists."

If laws are enforced against natives there will likely be uprisings across the province and country, Blatchford believes.

So , if Caledonia is helpless, is there any hope?

"I think the first step to hope, to be quite honest, is facts," Blatchford said.

A date for her launch party in Caledonia has yet to be determined, but will be announced in coming weeks.

Pre-orders can be made through the Doubleday Canada publishing house at www.doubledaycanada.ca, however copies of the book will be available locally.