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Book on Caledonia ‘nightmare’ exposes OPP and government

Neil Dring, Things I See
Published on Oct 27, 2010

The Sachem

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...

When Six Nations Natives took over the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision and later blocked the south end of Highway 6 in our town four years ago, many, myself included, were quietly hoping the entire mess would blow over quietly and quickly. We didn't want Caledonia to become another Oka or Ipperwash. That would be bad for business.

It was largely unknown, unappreciated and uncommunicated new OPP-Native policing policies which were now in effect thanks to the Ipperwash Enquiry that led the Ontario government and OPP to shamefully abandon Caledonia.

Only now have the police and the McGuinty government been taken to task for their role in the escalation of the Caledonia situation with the publishing of Helpless- Caledonia's Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy and How the Law Failed All of Us by Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford.  

Like most people, I was raised to trust police officers. I grew up thinking they were my friends and they would protect me. While reading Blatchford's book, I was transported back in time to when they did not.

Incidents she describes in detail I realized, like many Caledonia residents will, that I was personally there at the time.

Like many Caledonia residents, I witnessed Natives dump gravel across the road while police watched and did nothing. I watched in horror as a Native-driven backhoe perched itself on Argyle Street poised to dig up the King's Highway... we gasped at the thought and the police watched, dutifully keeping us away, seemingly protecting the Native at the wheel.

I thought, “These things cannot be happening in my Canada”, but, unfortunately, as a journalist, I did not speak up.

Instead, I hoped, like many others, that the best approach was to stay quiet, as our town councillor did, as the chamber of commerce did, and to let the authorities work things out behind the scenes.

Blatchford’s book personifies “justice unseen is justice  denied” and accurately captivates the frustration and anger Caledonia residents were experiencing.

Blatchford is quite clear of her intentions with the book.

She writes, "this book is not about Aboriginal land claims. It's not about... the residential schools... not about the dubious merits of the reserve system.  What Helpless is about is the failure of government to govern and protect all its citizens equally."

Blatchford pulls this off by dividing Helpless into three simple chapters: Before, During and After.

In the ‘Before’ section, much of the incredulous news, lack of police action, government indifference and lack of mainstream media coverage was  also being observed by then-Richmond Hill resident Gary McHale.

Blatchford thoroughly chronicles Caledonia's woes over a four-year period by extensive use of court transcripts and personal interviews with key players such as McHale, Hamilton policeman and local resident Dave Hartness, Sixth Line residents, the Henning brothers and The Hamilton Spectator’s news coverage of the day.

The Henning brothers were media-shy when their subdivision was first taken over, so it is very refreshing to read their first-hand account of how things were unfolding in the ‘During’ section.

‘After’ tells the tales of the fallout- the invasion of the smokeshops, the fear of living on Sixth Line, the fate of front-line OPP officers who dared to question senior brass and rallies specifically designed to embarrass police and the Dave Brown/Dana Chatwell saga.

As someone who lived through the events highlighted in Helpless, I can attest to the accuracy and commend Blatchford and her publisher for this fine book.

Helpless was formally launched at a reception in Cayuga on Wednesday, October 27 before being available nationally. Blatchford will be in Caledonia in person autographing copies of Helpless on Saturday, October 30, from 2 to 4 p.m. at The Regional News This Week office and copies will be available at Dragonfly Books in Caledonia.

By now, any residents, myself included, who feared the town's reputation would suffer  should any negative publicity leak out, rest assured that it did, and has and will again with Helpless, especially after Blatchford's national book launch this week.

Let's call it collateral damage. Hopefully, our experience will lead to changes in OPP-Native policing policies and this nightmare won't be foisted again on some other unsuspecting community.